Archive for March 16th, 2014

Help Me Change the World

“Change the world.”  I know what you’re thinking – “Stopa is swinging at windmills again.”  Look … I know it’s a cliché, and yes, ”changing the world” sounds impossibly optimistic.  But if you never read another blog from me again, please … read this one.

This is a hard week for consumer advocates.  We’re all struggling to keep our composure as we read this 150-page manual from Wells Fargo, illustrating in painstaking detail the extent of the fraud that exists in foreclosure-world.  I could go on and on with examples, pulling excerpts from the manual and showing just how crooked these banks are and how corrupt the process has become.  Instead, I’ll give just one.

Page 17 of Wells Fargo’s own manual shows that when Wells Fargo wants to foreclose, and doesn’t have an endorsement on the original Note, it doesn’t send the Note to a prior owner/holder to get endorsed, but has its own employees (the “WFHM Default Docs Team”) execute that endorsement.  Please stop and think about that for a minute.

In Florida, the law has morphed in recent years to clarify that all a bank needs to foreclose is possession of an original, endorsed Note.  That endorsement, of course, is supposed to be signed by the *prior* owner/holder of the Note – the entity that transferred/sold the Note to Wells Fargo.  In a fraud-free world, that’s how endorsements would be done – the prior owner/holder of the Note signs an endorsement when it transfers/sells the Note to Wells Fargo.  But here we have Wells Fargo’s own manual showing that when it doesn’t have an endorsement from the prior owner/holder, all it does is have its own employees effectuate that endorsement.

If you’ve ever wondered why, when you review endorsements on Notes in foreclosure cases, you see the same few signatures over and over again (Joan Mills, in Wells Fargo’s case, or Michelle Sjolander, for Bank of America), this is why.  When the endorsements are effectuated, they aren’t signed with an original, wet-ink signature, as would happen in the ordinary course of business if one bank were legitimately transferring possession of the original Note to another bank.  Instead, the bank that wants to foreclose puts a stamp of an endorsement on the Note (not a signature but, literally, a stamp of a signature) and tries to use that endorsement as proof of standing.

Is this really what foreclosure “proof” has become?  The bank that has the Note lacks the requisite endorsement, so it just stamps an endorsement on the Note itself?  “Here you go, Court.  Here’s the original Note with an endorsement.  Never mind that we put the endorsement on the Note ourself; here’s the endorsed Note.”

An increasing number of people in this country are disgusted with how the big banks get away with stuff like this, particularly when they’re the ones that crashed the global economy not so long ago.  In fact, just today, the New York Times published this story, explaining how “our” government has completely dropped the ball in prosecuting these criminal banksters.  If you’re rich and powerful in the banking industry, you don’t get punished no matter how bad your misconduct – it’s really that simple.  And that’s not my spin – that’s straight from the New York Times.

At times like this, I want our courts to exhibit the utmost integrity.  I want our courts to show the public that they don’t tolerate this type of misconduct.  Unfortunately, these big banks are powerful.  Throughout the country, and including here in Florida, the banks and their related business interests put immense pressure on the legislature to “clear the backlog” of foreclosure cases.  The legislature, in turn, strong-arms our courts to push through the cases.  As a result, right now in Florida, there are, literally, quotas in place.  The legislature is telling our courts, right now: “Clear this number of foreclosure cases or you won’t get additional funding.”  The deadline is June 30, 2014.

How powerful are the interests creating the pressure to “clear the backlog”?  Remember my blog posts from months ago (another topic which nobody will talk about, hence the corruption of it all) – it takes 10 million dollars in demonstrable net worth to be invited to a foreclosure auction held by Fannie Mae, the auctions at which foreclosed properties are sold in bulk for pennies on the dollar to rich and power investors like Bill Clinton.

Think about that for a minute.  Here we have court systems throughout Florida killing themselves to prosecute cases faster … so properties can be sold in bulk in secret sales to uber-wealthy investors like Bill Clinton?  All so the courts can get a pittance of funding from the legislature which is controlled by the lobbyists hired by the rich and powerful?

I’m confident many judges dislike this dynamic.  After all, as we all learned in grammar school, the judicial branch of government is supposed to operate independent of the legislature; the latter is not supposed to be able to tell the former what to do.  Unfortunately, though, these judges aren’t allowed to speak out.

I’ve tried speaking out (both via this blog and in courts throughout Florida on a daily basis).  I’ve tried supporting our good judges in Florida (of which, despite the foreclosure morass, there are many).  I’ve tried screaming from the rooftops about the inequity of it all.  But I’m just one person, and I can’t do it alone.  The foreclosure process is a runaway train, too big and too fast for me to stop it myself.  That’s why I need your help.

I’m optimistic I can get the ear/attention of the powers that be.  Maybe I’m crazy/naïve, but I think I can.  If so, I don’t want to be unarmed.  You see, it’s one thing for me to explain the perversities of the process myself; it’s another for me to have proof.  You, ladies and gentlemen, can give me that proof.

If you’ve had a bad experience in foreclosure court in Florida, share it with me.  I’m not talking about how you lost your case/home when you think you should have won.  And I’m not asking for tear-jerking stories of personal strife (e.g. I had cancer and the judge foreclosed on me anyway).  I want testimonials from Florida homeowners which reflect a lack of integrity with the system as a whole.  I’m talking about things like:

– The judge would not let me speak, at all.

– I was denied a continuance after the bank got three continuances.

– My motion was set for hearing at the same time as 30 other motions in other cases and I was limited to 60 seconds of argument

– At trial, the bank’s lawyer did not even have to ask any questions, as the judge asked all the questions and prosecuted the case

– The court said it “did not care” that the appellate court ruled on an issue (or anything to that effect), ruling the opposite of how the appellate court ruled.  (This is a slippery slope.  Reasonable people can disagree about the law or how it applies in a particular case.  So I’m not asking for long explanations of how you think the judge got it wrong.  Instead, I’m asking for any stories where the judge said he/she “did not care” how the appellate court ruled, “did not agree” with the appellate court’s ruling, or anything of that ilk.)

– The court declined to accept a settlement agreement of entry of a foreclosure judgment with an extended sale date, even though it was agreed upon by both parties.  “You agree to entry of judgment with 120-day sale date?  That’s too far away.  30 day sale date.”

– The court declined to reschedule a foreclosure sale where both parties agreed it should be rescheduled based on a settlement or settlement discussion (because the court wanted the sale to take place sooner).

– The court induced a pro se homeowner to consent to judgment when he/she wanted to go to trial (e.g. “if you consent to judgment, I will set a 120-day sale date, but if you oppose the trial, you will get a 30-day sale date”).

Please do not misunderstand the intent here.  I don’t want or need any judges’ names.  If you give me judges’ names, those names will be deleted.  This is NOT a forum to criticize a judge or to complain that Judge X ruled against you.  Many homeowners have been foreclosed, and many of them were appropriate rulings.  My point here is to obtain testimonials reflecting the fairness of the judicial process in Florida and how that made you feel about the court system as a whole.  It doesn’t even have to be your case – just something you saw/observed that reflects the fairness/integrity of the system.  Particularly if this was your only experience in a Florida court, I want to know how your experience/observations make you feel about the judicial system.

Please limit your letters to 200 words or less and send the letters to:  Stopa Law Firm, Attn:  Testimonials, 2202 N. West Shore Blvd, Suite 200, Tampa, FL 33607.

If you send such a letter, you agree there is no attorney-client privilege regarding the contents of that letter and consent to my use of the letter, in my discretion, as I see fit.

I make no promises here, folks.  Like I said, this a huge, runaway train with no brakes, and I’m just one man.  That said, I’m hopeful, if I can compile some testimonials like I’m envisioning, that we can effectuate some real change in how the system operates.  After all, maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I can’t help but believe that the powers that be would shudder if they realized just what’s happening in our courts on a regular basis.

Mark Stopa

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