We saw a fascinating story in today’s New York Times, about Thomas A. Cox, a retired lawyer whose zealous representation of a pro bono client exposed serious and widespread improprieties in the avalanche of mortgage foreclosures now going on in the United States. Our hats are off to Mr. Cox, whose efforts remind us what lawyers are supposed to do.
According to the Times’ story, “From a Maine House, a National Foreclosure Freeze”, the 66-year old Mr. Cox worked for a bank in the 1980’s and it was his job to call in small business loans. He described the work as “extraordinarily unpleasant”. After leaving the practice of law and working for a time building houses, he decided to volunteer his legal services at a nonprofit organization called “Pine Tree Legal Services”. There, he looked at a file for an unemployed Maine woman who was facing foreclosure proceedings brought by her mortgagee, GMAC. When Mr. Cox scrutinized the documents, he concluded that something “did not look right”. Although the foreclosure proceedings were fairly advanced, Mr. Cox pressed for and ultimately received leave to depose the “limited signing officer” whose affidavit had been filed by GMAC in support of the foreclosure order that it was seeking.
(According to the Times article, the limited signing officer acknowledged that he was processing some 400 foreclosures a day for GMAC and that contrary to his sworn testimony, the documents had not been reviewed by him or by anyone else. It turns out that this practice of having foreclosure documents signed by “robo-signers”
is disturbingly widespread.)
Mr. Cox conducted the deposition of GMAC’s robo-signer in June of this year. Judging by his own succinct but devastating summary of the results, it went rather well:
When Stephan [the robo-signer] says in an affidavit that he has personal knowledge of the facts stated in his affidavits, he doesn’t. When he says that he has custody and control of the loan documents, he doesn’t. When he says that he is attaching ‘a true and accurate’ copy of a note or a mortgage, he has no idea if that is so, because he does not look at the exhibits. When he makes any other statement of fact, he has no idea if it is true. When the notary says that Stephan appeared before him or her, he didn’t.
GMAC has now halted foreclosure proceedings in 23 states while it tries to correct its procedures. Other mortgage companies and banks that followed similar practices have also had to put on the brakes.
Well done Mr. Cox.