Citing the reporting of Mother Jones and the New York Times, Congressman Alan Grayson has sent a letter calling on the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court to “abate” foreclosure cases involving three law firms currently under scrutiny from the Office of Attorney General Bill McCollum until the investigation is complete.
“If the reports I am hearing are true, the illegal foreclosures taking place represent the largest seizure of private property ever attempted by banks and government entities,” Grayson wrote. “This is lawlessness.”
The Attorney General’s investigation specifically names the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, Shapiro & Fishman, and the Law Offices of David J. Stern. Together, Grayson wrote, they account for nearly 80 percent of all foreclosure cases in Florida.
In its press release announcing the investigation, McCollum’s office said that some firms representing banks would churn out foreclosure documents, which were often false or conflicting, and may in some cases have been produced by “affiliated companies outside the United States” – to move foreclosure cases through the courts en masse.
Because many mortgages have been bought and sold by different institutions multiple times, key paperwork involved in the process to obtain foreclosure judgments is often missing. On numerous occasions, allegedly fabricated documents have been presented to the courts in foreclosure actions to obtain final judgments against homeowners. Thousands of final judgments of foreclosure against Florida homeowners may have been the result of the allegedly improper actions of the law firms under investigation.
The Attorney General’s Office is also investigating whether the law firms have created affiliated companies outside the United States where the allegedly false documents are being prepared and then submitted to the law firms for use.
The New York Times article suggested that the trouble began when the state set up dedicated courts to clear a record-setting backlog of foreclosure cases that had been clogging the judicial system.
No one disputes that foreclosures dominate Florida’s dockets and that something needs to be done to streamline a complex and emotionally wrenching process. But lawyers representing troubled borrowers contend that many of the retired judges called in from the sidelines to oversee these matters are so focused on cutting the caseload that they are unfairly favoring financial institutions at the expense of homeowners.
Lawyers say judges are simply ignoring problematic or contradictory evidence and awarding the right to foreclose to institutions that have yet to prove they own the properties in question.
The full text of Grayson’s letter is below:
Dear Chief Justice Canady,
I am disturbed by the increasing reports of predatory ‘foreclosure mills’ in Florida. The New York Times and Mother Jones have both recently reported on the rampant and widespread practices of document fraud and forgery involved in mortgage assignments. My staff has spoken with multiple foreclosure specialists and attorneys in Florida who confirm these reports.
Three foreclosure mills – the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, Shapiro & Fishman, and the Law Offices of David J. Stern – constitute roughly 80% of all foreclosure proceedings in the state of Florida. All are under investigation by Attorney General Bill McCollum. If the reports I am hearing are true, the illegal foreclosures taking place represent the largest seizure of private property ever attempted by banks and government entities. This is lawlessness.
I respectfully request that you abate all foreclosures involving these firms until the Attorney General of the state of Florida has finished his investigations of those firms for document fraud.
I have included a court order, in which Chase, WAMU, and Shapiro and Fishman are excoriated by a judge for document fraud on the court. In this case, Chase attempted to foreclose on a home, when the mortgage note was actually owned by Fannie Mae.
Taking someone’s home should not be done lightly. And it should certainly be done in accordance with the law.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Member of Congress