For the second time in a month, the Florida Bar is pursuing discipline against a “foreclosure mill” attorney, known for intentionally mishandling cases for some of the country’s biggest mortgage holders by submitting court documents that were both fraudulent and forged.
Our Miami foreclosure lawyers reported last month on the earlier case, in which a Fort Lauderdale lawyer pleaded guilty to numerous offenses following a Bar investigation. That attorney was suspended for three months, forced to close his law firm and required to pay $6,000 to cover investigative costs and $30,000 for ongoing record analysis. He also must get the approval of the Florida Supreme Court before he can be reinstated to practice law.
At the time, that case was the first known instance of disciplinary action taken in Florida against an individual lawyer who worked to protect banks by acting unethically and possibly illegally. This is noteworthy especially because Florida is widely known to be Ground Zero of the national foreclosure crisis.
Back in 2011, the Florida Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least eight law firms for similar practices. However, the Florida Supreme Court brought that investigation to a screeching halt by preventing the office from issuing subpoenas to those firms.
That’s where the Florida Bar has stepped in.
This newest case draws striking similarities to the first – illustrating the kind of battle homeowners were in for when they tried to fight a wrongful foreclosure.
This attorney, based out of Plantation, was forced to close his firm as allegations swirled back in 2011. At the height of its operation, the firm employed more than 140,000 people across the state. Its clients included federal mortgage firms Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which backed out of the relationship in the midst of the robo-signing scandal.
The closure of his firm left more than 100,000 foreclosure cases in the state with an uncertain future.
Recently, numerous grievance committees (similar to a grand jury in civilian law) determined probable cause to punish the attorney in 17 different cases, following numerous formal complaints that had been made by foreclosure defense attorneys, banks, judges and even homeowners themselves.
The allegations run the gamut: backdating documents, notary fraud, failing to appear or have his attorneys appear in court, misleading the court and more. As one attorney complainant was quoted as saying, this law firm “made a mockery” of legal ethics.
An attorney representing the defendant claims that nearly 20 complaints were closed with no findings, and he maintains his clients’ innocence.
It’s important to note that the attorney hasn’t been found guilty of anything yet. The grievance findings simply give the Bar the green light to proceed in filing a formal complaint with the state Supreme Court. From there, the case will be assigned to a circuit court chief judge. That judge will then assign it to a circuit court judge to mediate the proceedings.
The Bar said it is hoping to have the case closed within half a year, but with so many egregious violations alleged, it could take quite a bit longer. And if either side isn’t happy with the outcome, they can seek a review, which could take another 12 months.
What is particularly interesting about this case is that it’s clear that the defendant did not have his hands on every single case of which wrongdoing is alleged. What’s more, the Bar is essentially set up to discipline individual lawyers – not entire law firms. The Bar is attempting to hold him accountable not only for his own personal actions actions, but also the subordinates who acted at his direction.
If you’re battling foreclosure in Miami or the surrounding areas contact Jacobs Keeley for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call (305) 358-7991. Also, don’t miss Miami Foreclosure Attorney Bruce Jacobs on 880AM/the Biz, every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on “Mortgage Wars,” discussing foreclosure topics that matter to YOU.
Florida Bar pursues discipline against foreclosure mill boss David J. Stern, Feb. 4, 2013, By Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post
More Blog Entries:
“Groundbreaking” Disciplinary Action Against Florida Foreclosure Firm, Jan. 13, 2013, Miami Foreclosure lawyer Blog