Maryland foreclosure practices decried Officials rebuke attorneys; class-action lawsuit filed against one firm By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun 8:36 p.m. EDT, October 13, 2010 Revelations that attorneys at two Maryland firms had other people sign their names to foreclosure documents brought a rebuke Wednesday from the O'Malley administration, which called the practice a "potential example of further mishandling and mistreatment of Maryland homeowners." Also on Wednesday, several borrowers' lawyers said they have filed a class-action suit against one of the law firms in federal court in Greenbelt. And attorney general offices across the country — including Maryland's — teamed up for a joint inquiry into nationwide reports of improper documentation used to foreclose on homeowners. The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday that two attorneys, Bethesda-based Jacob Geesing and Hunt Valley-based Thomas P. Dore, acknowledged in court filings that earlier documents submitted in foreclosure cases had been signed at their direction but not actually by them. The documents, called affidavits, are the written equivalent of court testimony and cannot be signed on another's behalf. The lawsuit — filed against Geesing, Howard Bierman, Carrie Ward and their firm, Bierman, Geesing, Ward & Wood — alleges that all three were responsible for "fabricated and counterfeit affidavits" in order to take on more cases than they could handle if they followed the law. The suit contends that the attorneys also directed others to sign their names on deeds for the last six years, clouding the titles on potentially thousands of homes sold to new owners. "[T]he Defendants' assembly line foreclosure prosecution became to foreclosure misconduct what Henry Ford was to automobile production," alleges the complaint, which was provided to The Sun by the plaintiffs' attorneys. The lawsuit was not available through the federal court's electronic filing system, but the copy from the attorneys showed the case number and a time stamp dated Wednesday. Geesing, Bierman and Ward did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment. Dore, who was not named in the suit, also did not return messages seeking comment. Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, said Wednesday that the falsely signed affidavits were one reason why the Democrat joined with the state's congressional delegation to ask the courts to halt foreclosures for at least 60 days. "While it's a separate issue from the robo-signings that prompted the latest dust-up in the mortgage lending world, it is nonetheless another disturbing development in the foreclosure process," Adamec said. In "corrective affidavits" acknowledging the signature issue, both Geesing and Dore said that all other information in their foreclosure documents was accurate. Mortgage servicers, meanwhile, have made similar assertions in recent days in response to court depositions of employees now dubbed "robo-signers." These staffers say they signed their own affidavits, but in such volume that they did not personally verify the information in the documents, such as how much borrowers owed. "Our ongoing assessment shows the basis for our past foreclosure decisions is accurate," Bank of America said in a statement last week when it expanded its freeze on foreclosure sales to all 50 states. But Richard Cordray, Ohio's attorney general, said improper affidavits are a serious matter even in cases where the details in the affidavits prove correct. He said the Maryland examples fall into that category. "Whether they signed it for someone else or whether they robo-signed lots of them, regardless, that's fraud," said Cordray, who has filed suit against mortgage servicer GMAC Mortgage. "You're telling the court under oath, and the court is relying on that evidence to make decisions about taking someone's property." Attorneys general in all 50 states announced Wednesday that they were working together to find out whether mortgage servicers submitted problematic affidavits. Requests from that group carry more weight than initial calls from individual states asking that mortgage companies review their procedures, said a spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. "Now you have … AGs all coming together with one voice," said Raquel Guillory, his spokeswoman. Though it supports the inquiry, the Obama administration said this week that it did not want to see a nationwide foreclosure moratorium, warning of "unintended consequences." Foreclosures represent a sizable chunk of the housing market today, and analysts have argued over whether a halt to such sales would help or hurt in the long term. The Mortgage Bankers Association is in the anti-moratorium crowd, saying that servicers move to repossess homes only after "all other foreclosure prevention efforts have failed." "Calls for a blanket national moratorium on all foreclosures are a bad idea and would cause significant harm to communities at risk, the unstable housing market and the fragile economy," the trade group said last week in a letter to Congress that was also signed by other groups representing financial institutions. "A foreclosure moratorium would not change the ultimate outcome for borrowers impacted by this situation." But housing counselors and consumer attorneys have long complained that borrowers who should qualify for loan modifications are given the runaround by overwhelmed servicers — while lawyers hired by the firms are pushing forward with foreclosure proceedings. Nina Simon, director of litigation with the Center for Responsible Lending, said a general rush to foreclose was harming the country. "We think there needs to be some other process for doing what's in everybody's interest," said Simon, who is involved in a class-action suit against GMAC Mortgage. "Every time somebody loses their home to foreclosure, it diminishes the value of their neighbor's property, it takes revenue away from the locality, it contributes to increased policing activity." Attorneys involved in the new class-action suit against the Bethesda-based Bierman, Geesing, Ward & Wood include Jerry Solomon, an attorney who represents Maryland and Florida homeowners in foreclosure. Solomon was looking through case files for clients last fall when he noticed irregularities in signatures. Geesing agreed to dismiss five cases after Solomon alleged "fraud on the court." In recent weeks, the Maryland secretary of state removed from office three notaries from Geesing's firm and three more from Dore's firm for notary violations. "I think it would be prudent for the courts to immediately stay any open foreclosures filed by these firms," said Mike Morin, an Annapolis attorney who is also involved in the class-action suit. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/realestatewonk Washington Post, Oct. 13, 10:31 pm http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2010/10/13/AR2010101307039.html Part 2 And now for the best part of this article: "In Prince George's County[Maryland], which has the Washington area's highest foreclosure rate [a majority black county], the circuit court has ordered a special review of cases in which lawyers have acknowledged they did not sign the documents as they had earlier claimed. The circuit court is scheduled later this fall to slowly [!] begin reviewing some of the 14,500 foreclosure cases pending in the county. A judge in Montgomery County said that court is putting about 400 foreclosure sales on hold while waiting for lawyers to explain why they had not actually signed the legal paperwork in those cases as they had initially said. "As a result, some foreclosures in these counties may be dismissed and home buyers who are poised to purchase these properties may lose the chance." Here's Maryland's response to the corrected paperwork the banks say they're going to file to quickly fix their "procedural mistakes" in previous filings: "Circuit judges in Prince George's and Montgomery counties said they are revisiting foreclosure cases in which 'corrective affidavits' have been filed. In those filings, foreclosure lawyers acknowledge that they did not sign the original affidavits or documents - which claim to have been signed before a notary public under oath - but have since reviewed the paperwork and affirmed the information is correct. "Judge Thomas P. Smith, who heads a new foreclosure committee in the Prince George's court, said that last week he ordered the court's auditor and foreclosure unit clerks to bring him any cases with this kind of supplemental affidavit if there was a motion pending to repossess the house or if the foreclosure had not yet been ratified by the court. "'I'm looking at the first 50 cases on December 9th and the next 50 on December 15th until we finish,' Smith said. He added that he does not know how many cases he will receive. In all the cases at issue, he said, the court is ordering that the foreclosure papers be refiled with a legible signature within 30 days. If the deadline isn't met, the cases could be dismissed, he said. "In Montgomery County, foreclosure lawyers have filed corrective affidavits in roughly 400 foreclosure cases, some of which have already been ratified, said John W. Debelius III, the circuit court's administrative judge. "The position we're taking is that these corrective affidavits are putting us on notice that there is some deficiency," Debelius said. "As of right now, those sales are not being ratified. Whether they will be is an open question." "The burden will be on the lawyers to justify why the sale should be ratified, or they may choose to dismiss the case and start the process all over again, Debelius said... "Separately, six notaries have been removed from office since August...All worked for law firms that handled foreclosures...These notaries did not witness the person sign the document or did not keep a registry as a record as required by state law. "The six notaries involved in this were afforded the opportunity for a hearing in the office of secretary of state," Morris said. "Based on failure or refusal to have a hearing, we removed them from office." Boy, are they pissed.
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