Archive for April 10th, 2013

Homeowners as Plaintiffs … A Tough Lesson

Banks often do some really despicable things … breaking into houses, violating various federal and state laws … I could go on and on.  Nonetheless, I almost always avoid the temptation to file suit on behalf of homeowners.  In my view, there’s an enormous difference between fighting to defend a foreclosure lawsuit as a defendant and initiating a lawsuit as a plaintiff.  Today, I received an absolutely heartbreaking email from a prospective client, and while her situation is truly awful, it’s a good way to illustrate why I am so firm in my beliefs on this issue.

You see, no matter how egregious a bank’s actions may be, if you’re a homeowner facing foreclosure, you probably don’t have a lot of money.  That’s why you’re in foreclosure – times are tough.  Unfortunately, banks know this.  Hence, the cold, hard reality is that if you file a lawsuit as a plaintiff against a bank, the bank will use your lack of finances against you.  Your inability to pay to fight shouldn’t matter – anyone should be able to seek relief in court if they were wronged.  In reality, though, this makes all the difference.  The moment you file that lawsuit, the bank will hire a silk-stockings law firm that bill by the hour with the primary objective of outspending you and outlasting you.  Your case might appear great on the merits – “the bank broke into my house” – but if you can’t afford to take that case to trial, then what will it matter?  In my view, if you start down this path, you invariably wind up spending a bunch of money you can’t afford to pay, only to, eventually, run out of money.  So then you’re out of money and still haven’t finished your case.

Occasionally, when I’ve expressed this fear to clients, they responded by asking if I’d take the case on a contingent fee.  While I understand the thought, my time is limited.  If I can spend untold hours on one case, or spend that same amount of time representing lots of homeowners facing foreclosure, the choice is easy.  I’ll forego the one case to help as many as possible.

Please read this email from a prospective client.  I’m sharing it with her consent as a way to help homeowners realize this is a trap they should avoid.  You might think you have a great case, but if you’re filing suit as a plaintiff against a bank, the chances of the bank being able to outspend you and outlast you are quite high.

As I say this, please realize this homeowner paid over $100,000 in fees.  When a lawyer like me is telling you he’d turn down a case like this – for a homeowner who could pay six figures in fees – that should tell you the extent of my concerns about this type of situation.  For me, there’s more at stake here than fees.  It’s just heartbreaking to know anyone would pay fees like this – from retirement accounts, no less – and now be in no better position than when the problem started.

So let’s keep fighting the good fight – but let’s do it as defendants, avoiding the spending battles the banks initiate when you file suit.  That’s certainly what this homeowner would do if she had it to do over again.

Here’s the email …

Good Afternoon Mr. Stopa,

I am proceeding pro se in three lawsuits – one of them a foreclosure and two others in which I am the plaintiff suing Wells Fargo & Corelogic for their repeated breaking & entering (one done before filing for foreclosure) and continued trespass on my property. The lawsuits are almost four years old. Until recently I was represented, but the attorneys withdrew over continued frustration with the Defendants’/Plantiffs’  non compliance with discovery requests, and my inability to promise them an additional $30,000.00.

I have no discovery, and have paid over $100,000 in legal fees – mostly from my retirement accounts, which my attorneys were aware of. No depositions, except for my own. I now need to subpoena the Corelogic agent who broke into my house twice, and am in need of legal advice. The defendants’ attorneys refuse to produce him (even though they said he could be contacted through their offices) and his Florida Driver’s license has a UPS Store as his address.

The judge refused to stay the upcoming (May) trial in the Corelogic case. I can afford a consultation and limited legal work, but can no longer afford “unlimited” representation. Do you know any lawyer who would talk with me? Someone just starting out and in need of experience?

Even though I feel that my past attorneys took advantage of me (my former attorneys still haven’t returned my 20,000.00 retainer held in trust, from which they will deduct their expenses in withdrawing and their final invoice) I am hoping to find someone who could at least give me limited legal advice. I had filed a Cert Petition with the court of appeal in an effort to quash my attorneys’ withdrawal, but it was denied last week on the determination that I would not suffer “irreparable harm” that could not be remedied on appeal.

Mark Stopa

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