I had a hearing yesterday and the Court was running a little late, so I had the opportunity to observe hearings in other cases. Geez, what a fiasco. The defendant/homeowner in the hearing before mine was pacing the halls, visibly upset. I’m friendly with the JA, so I inquired what was happening. She told me her attorney decided not to attend the hearing. Not that he got a flat tire on the way to court, not that he was moving to withdraw, and not that his staff inadvertently didn’t calendar the hearing … he just decided not to attend. Worse yet, it was a summary judgment hearing.
This is just absolutely inexcusable. Appalling. An embarrassment to the profession. A summary judgment hearing is the most important hearing in a foreclosure case. For the homeowner’s attorney simply not to attend – to choose not to attend – is disgraceful. I think the homeowner said it best when she muttered under her breath “I guess having the best lawyer possible really does matter.” Or perhaps Judge Rondolino summed it up best when he called this lawyer at the start of the hearing and said something to the effect of “I have your appearance as counsel in the file, you haven’t moved to withdraw … what do you expect me to do here? Rule in your client’s favor just to protect you from your own malpractice?”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the basic problem with many foreclosure defense attorneys. A lot of them don’t know how to defend cases, don’t care, or both … they just file papers just to collect a fee, then when they lose tell the client “well, you were going to lose anyway.” My clients realize I may lose their case, but they know (at least I hope they know) they won’t lose without a knock-down, drag-out fight.
The bad lawyering is hardly limited to the defense side of foreclosure cases, but I’m not about to complain there. I have no aversion whatsoever to running roughshod over newbie attorneys who have no idea how to handle a contested foreclosure case.
Is there any good lawyering out there? Well, I had a client today say that she was referred to Stopa Law Firm by her bank. Apparently, GMAC told her my firm is “the best in the business” at defending foreclosure cases. A referral from the opposing bank – weird, but that one made my day. I don’t want this to be a brag-fest, though, so enough about me. Instead, I’ll do something rare – I’ll throw a compliment to an opposing attorney.
I’ve been litigating a case against Attorney Gary Gassel out of Sarasota. He’s pushed the case aggressively and competently (certainly compared to most foreclosure lawyers I see). However, my client was just diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and is not expected to live much longer. So I filed an Emergency Motion to continue the summary judgment hearing, arguing the rather obvious unfairness of foreclosing a homeowner on his death-bed and the impropriety of letting a case proceed when my client is incapable of participating in his own defense.
To my surprise and pleasure, Mr. Gassel cancelled the hearing. I was expecting some sort of “my client won’t approve” or “I can’t reach my client for approval” excuse (and that I’d feel compelled to talk to my friend Shannon Behnken at the Tampa Tribune about how U.S. Bank wanted to foreclose on a homeowner with Stage 4 lung cancer) but nope – this lawyer did the right thing, acknowledging the hearing should be cancelled. That’s good lawyering.
With so much frustration and outrage in this industry, it made my day to see some basic fairness in a foreclosure case. Now, if everyone could exhibit the same compassion to all homeowners all of the time …Mark Stopa