The trial lawyers at Jacobs-Keeley have often noted the civil court system is skewed toward banks and other deep-pocketed entities. Even though courts are supposed to be one of those places where the playing field is even – justice being blind, and all that – there is much to suggest that is not the case.
Just take the recent editorial penned by Sue Bell Cobb, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 2007 to 2011. In a long, detailed piece in Politico Magazine, she delves into the dangers of requiring judges to undergo cash-soaked elections. She says the amount of money and favors exchanged in state judicial races made her “ashamed” to have participated.

She took note of how she had no choice but to accept nearly $2 million from lobbyists and lawyers in order to win the 2006 race. Her opponent raised more than twice that much. Although she won, she says a question from a reporter left her disturbed. The reporter asked how it felt to have won the most expensive race in history, and how the people of the state could rest assured those contributions wouldn’t affect her decisions on the bench.
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A number of large financial institutions are preparing to settle with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations they engaged in a massive price-rigging scandal that involved many trillions of dollars in foreign currency trades.
The Justice Department has promised the settlement in this case will be far tougher than those negotiated in the past over other alleged wrongdoings by banks. Of course, as The New York Times‘ editorial board recently pointed out, “tougher than the last” isn’t saying too much.

We’re talking about a system where banks have committed crimes involving not just the rigging of interest rates and foreign currency trades, but mortgage fraud, money laundering, securities fraud, conspiracy to aid tax evasion and foreclosure abuse. When banks struck settlements with the government for these actions, very rarely did they even have to concede they’d done anything wrong. Most of the time, prosecutions were deferred or foregone entirely in exchange for payment of fines or other penalties. In four cases, all involving foreign institutions, banks pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but none of the penalties had any real impact on the firms’ day-to-day operations. And how many top-level bank executives were held civilly and/or criminally? A grand total of zero.
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A bank is lobbying for a 90 percent reduction on city fines issued for code violations after allowing a 2011 foreclosure property to lie vacant and unkempt in a neighborhood for the last four years. zombieforeclosure.jpg

Wells Fargo is asking that the $57,000 in fines be reduced down to $5,700 after the bank took corrective action on the issues.

Now, let’s set aside the fact that when the financial crisis came to a head, lenders were loathe to give homeowners a break in the form of principal mortgage loan reductions or modifications that would have made payments more manageable. Let’s set aside the fact that the whole reason the financial crisis occurred in the first place was because lenders an mortgage services acted unethically and at times illegally in the way mortgages were sold, bundled and re-sold. Let’s set aside the fact that when the banks were fined for these actions, they promised to make it right by paying billions of dollars – much of that in the form of credit to distressed homeowners – and that they often failed to follow through on those promises.
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The latest report from RealtyTrac listing firm indicates the number of foreclosures in South Florida is down significantly over the last year.
In January, it was reported January tallied nearly 900 home foreclosures, which was nearly double the 470 foreclosures reported the same month in 2014. Similarly in Palm Beach County, there were 517 foreclosures, which was an 11 percent increase from a year ago. During this same time too, we’re seeing an uptick in bank repossessions, which one Sun Sentinel reporter indicated was a “welcome sign,” indicating a growing number of distressed properties are are clearing the clogged court pipeline. As a representative of RealtyTrac put it, “The pig is moving through the python.”

Yes, cases are being cleared. But the question becomes: At what cost?
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A recent report by advocacy group Democracy Now! details how pensions for millions of Americans public workers have been invested into risky hedge funds, private equity and “alternative investment funds.”
These investments put worker pensions at risk – but they have been lining the pockets of local politicians with millions of dollars in investment fees.

In one case, journalists learned President Obama’s one-time chief-of-staff, now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, received $600,000 in campaign contributions from investment firms that are responsible for managing city worker pension funds in Chicago. In New Jersey, the top official seated on the board that decides how state workers’ $80 billion in pension funds are invested was closely involved with Gov. Chris Christie’s head campaign fundraising aides while he was lobbying for re-election.
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Consumers with cell phones (i.e., just about everyone) are protected from robocalling annoyances under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. However, banks are trying to change the law, arguing such calls will allow them to fight identity theft and other forms of fraud.
Consumer advocates argue the benefits are being significantly overstated. More likely, they assert, is this is simply an opportunity for large corporations to erode key protections for consumers.

Beyond the fact that robo-calling is an annoyance, it can cost money when it’s done on your mobile phone. That’s likely a large reason why more than 223 million Americans have registered their phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” registry.
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In the wake of the 2008 housing market collapse and economic meltdown that followed, it became clear that real change would have to be effected on Wall Street if we hoped to avoid a similar scenario down the road.
In many respects, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has made that her mission. The Washington Post recently characterized her efforts as a “jihad against Wall Street.” Warren has worked hard to battle financial and corporate giants that bend or break the law for their own benefit, often protecting the masses from getting the short end of the stick.

The latest target of her efforts is Antonio Weiss. He is President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance. Warren notes Weiss’s resume includes toiling as an investment banker for Lazard and working to secure international merger deals in that role and others. Some of the bigger of those deals involve an $11 billion merger of Burger King with a coffee-and-doughnut manufacturer based in Canada.
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Sometimes, it pays to do the right thing.
The former Countrywide Financial Corp. executive who blew the whistle on Bank of America’s widespread mortgage fraud, resulting in an almost $17 billion settlement, was recently awarded $57 million in his qui tam lawsuit.

Edwin O’Donnell reportedly contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan in advance of foreshadowed settlement deal with the banking giant to give the government greater leverage in its case. He alleged the company issued a series of toxic mortgages under a program known as the “High Speed Swim Lane,” also referred to as “HSSL” or “hustle.” Knowing the mortgages were likely to be defaulted on, the company then quickly sold them to the government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
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At the close of last summer, The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit journalism organization, published a feature detailing how Florida homeowners were being steamrolled by a legislative initiative intended to plow through the back log. The kicker was the program was funded by a federal mortgage fraud settlement that was secured specifically to help disenfranchised borrowers.
Even in cases where banks and borrowers were requesting more time to prepare their cases, judges were having none of it. Many foreclosure defense lawyers were speaking out, arguing the state’s civil court system had been totally compromised in the interest of getting through these cases quickly.

Now, following this expose and several others, it seems state courts may be ready to change course. The Florida Supreme Court’s Local Rules Advisory Committee ruled in December that an order by a judge in Palm Beach County that essentially allowed banks to overcome homeowner efforts to fight foreclosures by simply ignoring their motions was a measure that proved beyond the scope of that judge’s authority.
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Certain types of debt collection activity against active duty soldiers and service members are illegal. That didn’t stop one retailer and two debt collection firms from partaking, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The agency pursued action against the companies after learning the firms engaged in illegal tactics in order to collect debts against active-duty service members. Those actions included filing lawsuits illegally, debiting consumer accounts without proper authorization and contacting the commanding officers of service members.

For these actions, the CFPB reports, a federal court judge issued a final consent order requiring the firms and their owners to pay $2.5 million in restitution, plus a $100,000 civil penalty.
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