Archive for March 1st, 2012

Good Lawyering, Bad Lawyering, and Basic Fairness

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

Posted in Main | No Comments »

Help the Economy, Support Local Business – Free Rays Tickets at Ferg’s

I’m so friggin’ tired of hearing people say the way to improve the economy is to accelerate the foreclosure process.  You know what happens when there’s a foreclosure?  People get thrown out of their homes.  Guess what happens next?  They look for somewhere else to live, and not necessarily in Florida.  This is why we have thousands of homes vacant in Florida.  This is why there are tens of thousands of cases in Florida where a bank has obtained a Final Judgment of Foreclosure but won’t set the foreclosure sale.  Banks can take title very easily – all they have to do is set the sale – but they don’t want to because they know the demand for housing doesn’t meet the supply.

Accelerating foreclosures won’t help the economy, but I know one thing that will – SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS!

Right here in Tampa we have a terrific example of this with our Tampa Bay Rays.  I’ve talked about the Rays in this blog in the context of strategic default and even compared the Rays to homeowners and the Red Sox to banks.  Sure, I suppose I’m biased because I like sports, but there’s more to it than that.  The Rays create an enormous opportunity for businesses in the Tampa/St. Pete area to thrive, particularly if attendance is up and the team remains local.  For instance, anyone who’s ever been to a Rays’ game knows about Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill.  It’s right across the street from Tropicana Field and it’s a fun and popular hangout on game days.  When people go to Rays games, Ferg’s does well, and it can continue to employ more people.  Local business thriving = more employees = more people living in Florida = the Rays stay in St. Pete, and the upward cycle continues, on and on.

I’m tired of the misperception that foreclosure defense attorneys are harming the economy.  If anything, I think I help the economy.  My clients are still living in Florida, maintaining their homes, and trying to prosper in our great state.  If I (or some other, capable foreclosure defense attorney) weren’t helping them, who knows where they’d be, and who knows what condition their house would be in.

I think I’m helping, but I want to do more.  I want to help support our local economy in other ways as well.  That’s why Stopa Law Firm will be giving away at least two tickets to every single Rays home game in the 2012 regular season.  Let’s say that again:

Stopa Law Firm will be giving away at least two tickets to every single Rays’ home game.

I’m not handling the raffles myself.  Instead, Ferg’s will handle the raffles on designated dates and times, to be announced (probably a designated Friday or Saturday night).  All you have to do is go to Ferg’s, help support local business, and enter the free raffle (on the designated date) for a chance to win free tickets to upcoming Rays home games.

(In the interests of full disclosure, Stopa Law Firm and I have no ownership or financial interest in Ferg’s.  I just see it as a fun place to go before a game and a good example of how we can support local business.)

Hopefully you’ll agree with my belief that everyone here wins.  The Rays win with more attendance (which everyone wants, as we need them here).  Local businesses like Ferg’s (and its employees) wins with more business.  Stopa Law Firm wins with increased awareness of foreclosure defense.  And local homeowners win with free Rays tickets.  Perhaps most importantly, I hope this give-away of mine will help everyone realize the way to help our economy is to support local businesses, and the jobs they create, not by throwing homeowners out of their homes faster.


Mark Stopa

Posted in Main | No Comments »