Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions: MERS

Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times: Darlene and Robert Blendheim of Seattle are struggling to keep their home after their subprime lender went out of business.

By MIKE McINTIRE NYTimes
Published: April 23, 2009

Judge Walt Logan had seen enough. As a county judge in Florida, he had 28 cases pending in which an entity called MERS wanted to foreclose on homeowners even though it had never lent them any money.

Into the Mortgage NetherworldGraphicInto the Mortgage Netherworld

MERS, a tiny data-management company, claimed the right to foreclose, but would not explain how it came to possess the mortgage notes originally issued by banks. Judge Logan summoned a MERS lawyer to the Pinellas County courthouse and insisted that that fundamental question be answered before he permitted the drastic step of seizing someone’s home.

Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times R. K. Arnold, MERS president, said the company helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on the industry.

“You don’t think that’s reasonable?” the judge asked.

“I don’t,” the lawyer replied. “And in fact, not only do I think it’s not reasonable, often that’s going to be impossible.”

Judge Logan had entered the murky realm of MERS. Although the average person has never heard of it, MERS — short for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems — holds 60 million mortgages on American homes, through a legal maneuver that has saved banks more than $1 billion over the last decade but made life maddeningly difficult for some troubled homeowners.

Created by lenders seeking to save millions of dollars on paperwork and public recording fees every time a loan changes hands, MERS is a confidential computer registry for trading mortgage loans. From an office in the Washington suburbs, it played an integral, if unsung, role in the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities that fueled the housing boom. But with the collapse of the housing market, the name of MERS has been popping up on foreclosure notices and on court dockets across the country, raising many questions about the way this controversial but legal process obscures the tortuous paths of mortgage ownership.

If MERS began as a convenience, it has, in effect, become a corporate cloak: no matter how many times a mortgage is bundled, sliced up or resold, the public record often begins and ends with MERS. In the last few years, banks have initiated tens of thousands of foreclosures in the name of MERS — about 13,000 in the New York region alone since 2005 — confounding homeowners seeking relief directly from lenders and judges trying to help borrowers untangle loan ownership. What is more, the way MERS obscures loan ownership makes it difficult for communities to identify predatory lenders whose practices led to the high foreclosure rates that have blighted some neighborhoods.

In Brooklyn, an elderly homeowner pursuing fraud claims had to go to court to learn the identity of the bank holding his mortgage note, which was concealed in the MERS system. In distressed neighborhoods of Atlanta, where MERS appeared as the most frequent filer of foreclosures, advocates wanting to engage lenders “face a challenge even finding someone with whom to begin the conversation,” according to a report by NeighborWorks America, a community development group.

To a number of critics, MERS has served to cushion banks from the fallout of their reckless lending practices.

“I’m convinced that part of the scheme here is to exhaust the resources of consumers and their advocates,” said Marie McDonnell, a mortgage analyst in Orleans, Mass., who is a consultant for lawyers suing lenders. “This system removes transparency over what’s happening to these mortgage obligations and sows confusion, which can only benefit the banks.”

A recent visitor to the MERS offices in Reston, Va., found the receptionist answering a telephone call from a befuddled borrower: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we can’t help you with your loan.” MERS officials say they frequently get such calls, and they offer a phone line and Web page where homeowners can look up the actual servicer of their mortgage.

In an interview, the president of MERS, R. K. Arnold, said that his company had benefited not only banks, but also millions of borrowers who could not have obtained loans without the money-saving efficiencies it brought to the mortgage trade. He said that far from posing a hurdle for homeowners, MERS had helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on a sprawling industry where, in the past, lenders might have gone out of business and left no contact information for borrowers seeking assistance.

“We’re not this big bad animal,” Mr. Arnold said. “This crisis that we’ve had in the mortgage business would have been a lot worse without MERS.”

About 3,000 financial services firms pay annual fees for access to MERS, which has 44 employees and is owned by two dozen of the nation’s largest lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. It was the brainchild of the Mortgage Bankers Association, along with Fannie MaeFreddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, the mortgage finance giants, who produced a white paper in 1993 on the need to modernize the trading of mortgages.

At the time, the secondary market was gaining momentum, and Wall Street banks and institutional investors were making millions of dollars from the creative bundling and reselling of loans. But unlike common stocks, whose ownership has traditionally been hidden, mortgage-backed securities are based on loans whose details were long available in public land records kept by county clerks, who collect fees for each filing. The “tyranny of these forms,” the white paper said, was costing the industry $164 million a year.

“Before MERS,” said John A. Courson, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, “the problem was that every time those documents or a file changed hands, you had to file a paper assignment, and that becomes terribly debilitating.”

Although several courts have raised questions over the years about the secrecy afforded mortgage owners by MERS, the legality has ultimately been upheld. The issue has surfaced again because so many homeowners facing foreclosure are dealing with MERS.

Advocates for borrowers complain that the system’s secrecy makes it impossible to seek help from the unidentified investors who own their loans. Avi Shenkar, whose company, the GMA Modification Corporation in North Miami Beach, Fla., helps homeowners renegotiate mortgages, said loan servicers frequently argued that “investor guidelines” prevented them from modifying loan terms.

“But when you ask what those guidelines are, or who the investor is so you can talk to them directly, you can’t find out,” he said.

MERS has considered making information about secondary ownership of mortgages available to borrowers, Mr. Arnold said, but he expressed doubts that it would be useful. Banks appoint a servicer to manage individual mortgages so “investors are not in the business of dealing with borrowers,” he said. “It seems like anything that bypasses the servicer is counterproductive,” he added.

When foreclosures do occur, MERS becomes responsible for initiating them as the mortgage holder of record. But because MERS occupies that role in name only, the bank actually servicing the loan deputizes its employees to act for MERS and has its lawyers file foreclosures in the name of MERS.

The potential for confusion is multiplied when the high-tech MERS system collides with the paper-driven foreclosure process. Banks using MERS to consummate mortgage trades with “electronic handshakes” must later prove their legal standing to foreclose. But without the chain of title that MERS removed from the public record, banks sometimes recreate paper assignments long after the fact or try to replace mortgage notes lost in the securitization process.

This maneuvering has been attacked by judges, who say it reflects a cavalier attitude toward legal safeguards for property owners, and exploited by borrowers hoping to delay foreclosure. Judge Logan in Florida, among the first to raise questions about the role of MERS, stopped accepting MERS foreclosures in 2005 after his colloquy with the company lawyer. MERS appealed and won two years later, although it has asked banks not to foreclose in its name in Florida because of lingering concerns.

Last February, a State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn, Arthur M. Schack, rejected a foreclosure based on a document in which a Bank of New York executive identified herself as a vice president of MERS. Calling her “a milliner’s delight by virtue of the number of hats she wears,” Judge Schack wondered if the banker was “engaged in a subterfuge.”

In Seattle, Ms. McDonnell has raised similar questions about bankers with dual identities and sloppily prepared documents, helping to delay foreclosure on the home of Darlene and Robert Blendheim, whose subprime lender went out of business and left a confusing paper trail.

“I had never heard of MERS until this happened,” Mrs. Blendheim said. “It became an issue with us, because the bank didn’t have the paperwork to prove they owned the mortgage and basically recreated what they needed.”

The avalanche of foreclosures — three million last year, up 81 percent from 2007 — has also caused unforeseen problems for the people who run MERS, who take obvious pride in their unheralded role as a fulcrum of the American mortgage industry.

In Delaware, MERS is facing a class-action lawsuit by homeowners who contend it should be held accountable for fraudulent fees charged by banks that foreclose in MERS’s name.

Sometimes, banks have held title to foreclosed homes in the name of MERS, rather than their own. When local officials call and complain about vacant properties falling into disrepair, MERS tries to track down the lender for them, and has also created a registry to locate property managers responsible for foreclosed homes.

“But at the end of the day,” said Mr. Arnold, president of MERS, “if that lawn is not getting mowed and we cannot find the party who’s responsible for that, I have to get out there and mow that lawn.”

Judge ARTHUR SCHACK’s COLASSAL Steven J. BAUM “MiLL” SMACK DOWN!! HSBC BANK USA, NA v. YEASMIN, 2010 NY Slip Op 50927 – NY: Supreme Court, Kings 2010

2010 NY Slip Op 50927(U)

HSBC BANK USA, N.A. AS TRUSTEE FOR NOMURA ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATE SERIES

2006-AF1,, Plaintiff,
v.
LOVELY YEASMIN, ET. AL., Defendants.

34142/07

Supreme Court, Kings County.

Decided May 24, 2010.

Steven J Baum, PC, Amherst NY, Plaintiff — US Bank.

ARTHUR M. SCHACK, J.

Plaintiff’s renewed motion for an order of reference, for the premises located at 22 Jefferson Street, Brooklyn, New York (Block 3170, Lot 20, County of Kings), is denied with prejudice. The instant action is dismissed and the notice of pendency for the subject property is cancelled. Plaintiff HSBC BANK USA, N.A. AS TRUSTEE FOR NOMURA ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATE SERIES 2006-AF1 (HSBC) failed to comply with my May 2, 2008 decision and order in the instant matter (19 Misc 3d 1127 [A]), which granted plaintiff HSBC leave:

to renew its application for an order of reference for the premises located at 22 Jefferson Street, Brooklyn, New York (Block 3170, Lot 20, County of Kings), upon presentation to the Court, within forty-five (45) days of this decision and order of:

(1) a valid assignment of the instant mortgage and note to plaintiff, HSBC . . .;

(2) an affirmation from Steven J. Baum, Esq., the principal of Steven J. Baum, P.C., explaining if both MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC. [MERS], the assignor of the instant mortgage and note, and HSBC . . . the assignee of the instant mortgage and note, pursuant to 22 NYCRR § 1200.24, consented to simultaneous representation in the instant action, with “full disclosure of the implications of the simultaneous representation and the advantages and risks involved” explained to them;

(3) compliance with the statutory requirements of CPLR § 3215 (f), by an affidavit of facts executed by someone with authority to execute such an affidavit, and if the affidavit of facts is executed by a loan servicer, a copy of a valid power of attorney to the loan servicer, and the servicing agreement authorizing the affiant to act in the instant foreclosure action; and

(4) an affidavit from an officer of plaintiff HSBC . . . explaining why plaintiff HSBC . . . purchased a nonperforming loan from MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE HOME CAPITAL, LLC [CAMBRIDGE].

[Emphasis added]

Plaintiff made the instant motion on January 6, 2009, 249 days subsequent to the May 2, 2008 decision and order. Thus, the instant motion is 204 days late. Plaintiff’s unavailing lateness explanation, in ¶ 16 of plaintiff’s counsel’s January 6, 2009 affirmation of regularity, states:

A previous application has been made for this or like relief but was subsequently denied without prejudice with leave to renew upon proper papers. By Decision and Order of this court dated the 2nd day of May 2008, plaintiff had 45 days to renew its application.

However on June 29, 2008 the Plaintiff permitted the mortgagor to enter into a foreclosure forbearance agreement. Said agreement was entered into with the hope that the Defendant would be able to keep her home. The agreement was not kept by the mortgagor and Plaintiff has since resumed the foreclosure action. The defects of the original application are addressed in the Affirmation attached hereto at Tab F [sic].

June 29, 2008 was 58 days subsequent to May 2, 2008. This was 13 days subsequent to the Court ordered deadline for plaintiff to make a renewed motion for an order of reference. While it’s laudatory for plaintiff HSBC to have granted defendant a forbearance agreement, plaintiff HSBC never notified the Court about this or sought Court approval of extending the 45-day deadline to make the instant motion. However, even if the instant motion was timely, the documents plaintiff’s counsel refers to at Tab F [exhibit F of motion] do not cure the defects the Court found with the original motion and articulated in the May 2, 2008 decision and order.

Background

 

Defendant LOVELY YEASMIN borrowed $624,800.00 from CAMBRIDGE on May 10, 2006. The note and mortgage were recorded by MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, for purposes of recording the mortgage, in the Office of the City Register, New York City Department of Finance, on May 23, 2006, at City Register File Number (CRFN) XXXXXXXXXXXXX. Then, MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, assigned the mortgage to plaintiff HSBC on September 10, 2007, with the assignment recorded in the Office of the City Register, on September 20, 2007, at CRFN XXXXXXXXXXXXX. The assignment was executed by “Nicole Gazzo, Esq., on behalf of MERS, by Corporate Resolution dated 7/19/07.” Neither a corporate resolution nor a power of attorney to Ms. Gazzo were recorded with the September 10, 2007 assignment. Therefore, the Court found the assignment invalid and plaintiff HSBC lacked standing to bring the instant foreclosure action. Ms. Gazzo, the assignor, according to the Office of Court Administration’s Attorney Registration, has as her business address, “Steven J. Baum, P.C., 220 Northpointe Pkwy Ste G, Buffalo, NY 14228-1894.” On September 10, 2008, the same day that Ms. Gazzo executed the invalid assignment for MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, plaintiff’s counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C., commenced the instant action on behalf of purported assignee HSBC by filing the notice of pendency, summons and complaint in the instant action with the Kings County Clerk’s Office. The Court, in the May 2, 2008 decision and order, was concerned that the simultaneous representation by Steven J. Baum, P.C. of both MERS and HSBC was a conflict of interest in violation of 22 NYCRR § 1200.24, the Disciplinary Rule of the Code of Professional Responsibility entitled “Conflict of Interest; Simultaneous Representation,” then in effect. Further, plaintiff’s moving papers for an order of reference and related relief failed to present an “affidavit made by the party,” pursuant to CPLR § 3215 (f). The instant application contained an “affidavit of merit and amount due,” dated November 16, 2007, by Cathy Menchise, “Senior Vice President of WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A. D/B/A AMERICA’S SERVICING COMPANY, Attorney in Fact for HSBC BANK USA, N.A. AS TRUSTEE FOR NOMURA ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATE SERIES 2006-AF1.” Ms. Menchise stated “[t]hat a true copy of the Power of Attorney is attached hereto.” Actually attached was a photocopy of a “Limited Power of Attorney,” dated July 19, 2004, from HSBC, appointing WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A. as its attorney-in-fact to perform various enumerated services, by executing documents “if such documents are required or permitted under the terms of the related servicing agreements . . . in connection with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.[‘s] . . . responsibilities to service certain mortgage loans . . . held by HSBC . . . as Trustee of various trusts.” The “Limited Power of Attorney” failed to list any of these “certain mortgage loans.” The Court was unable to determine if plaintiff HSBC’s subject mortgage loan was covered by this “Limited Power of Attorney.” The original motion stated that defendant YEASMIN defaulted on her mortgage payments by failing to make her May 1, 2007 and subsequent monthly loan payments. Yet, on September 10, 2007, 133 days subsequent to defendant YEASMIN’S alleged May 1, 2007 payment default, plaintiff HSBC took the ssignment of the instant nonperforming loan from MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE. Thus, the Court required, upon renewal of the motion for an order of reference, a satisfactory explanation of why HSBC purchased a nonperforming loan from MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE.

Plaintiff HSBC needed “standing” to proceed in the instant action. The Court of Appeals (Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, Inc. v Pataki, 100 NY2d 801, 912 [2003]), cert denied 540 US 1017 [2003]), held that “[s]tanding to sue is critical to the proper functioning of the judicial system. It is a threshold issue. If standing is denied, the pathway to the courthouse is blocked. The plaintiff who has standing, however, may cross the threshold and seek judicial redress.” In Carper v Nussbaum, 36 AD3d 176, 181 (2d Dept 2006), the Court held that “[s]tanding to sue requires an interest in the claim at issue in the lawsuit that the law will recognize as a sufficient predicate for determining the issue at the litigant’s request.” If a plaintiff lacks standing to sue, the plaintiff may not proceed in the action. (Stark v Goldberg,297 AD2d 203 [1d Dept 2002]). “Since standing is jurisdictional and goes to a court’s authority to resolve litigation [the court] can raise this matter sua sponte.” (Axelrod v New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, 154 AD2d 827, 828 [3d Dept 1989]).

In the instant action, the September 10, 2007 assignment from MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, to HSBC was defective. Therefore, HSBC had no standing to bring this action. The recorded assignment by “Nicole Gazzo, Esq. on behalf of MERS, by Corporate Resolution dated 7/19/07,” had neither the corporate resolution nor a power of attorney attached. Real Property Law (RPL) § 254 (9) states: Power of attorney to assignee. The word “assign” or other words of assignment, when contained in an assignment of a mortgage and bond or mortgage and note, must be construed as having included in their meaning that the assignor does thereby make, constitute and appoint the assignee the true and lawful attorney, irrevocable, of the assignor, in the name of the assignor, or otherwise, but at the proper costs and charges of the assignee, to have, use and take all lawful ways and means for the recovery of the money and interest secured by the said mortgage and bond or mortgage and note, and in case of payment to discharge the same as fully as the assignor might or could do if the assignment were not made. [Emphasis added]

To have a proper assignment of a mortgage by an authorized agent, a power of attorney is necessary to demonstrate how the agent is vested with the authority to assign the mortgage. “No special form or language is necessary to effect an assignment as long as the language shows the intention of the owner of a right to transfer it [Emphasis added].” (Tawil v Finkelstein Bruckman Wohl Most & Rothman, 223 AD2d 52, 55 [1d Dept 1996]). (See Suraleb, Inc. v International Trade Club, Inc., 13 AD3d 612 [2d Dept 2004]). To foreclose on a mortgage, a party must have title to the mortgage. The instant assignment was a nullity. The Appellate Division, Second Department (Kluge v Fugazy, 145 AD2d 537, 538 [2d Dept 1988]), held that a “foreclosure of a mortgage may not be brought by one who has no title to it and absent transfer of the debt, the assignment of the mortgage is a nullity.” Citing Kluge v Fugazy, the Court inKatz v East-Ville Realty Co. (249 AD2d 243 [1d Dept 1998]), held that “[p]laintiff’s attempt to foreclose upon a mortgage in which he had no legal or equitable interest was without foundation in law or fact.” Plaintiff HSBC, with the invalid assignment of the instant mortgage and note from MERS, lacked standing to foreclose on the instant mortgage. The Court, in Campaign v Barba (23 AD3d 327 [2d Dept 2005]), held that “[t]o establish a prima facie case in an action to foreclose a mortgage, the plaintiff must establish the existence of the mortgage and the mortgage note, ownership of the mortgage, and the defendant’s default in payment [Emphasis added].” (See Household Finance Realty Corp. of New York v Wynn, 19 AD3d 545 [2d Dept 2005]; Sears Mortgage Corp. v Yahhobi, 19 AD3d 402 [2d Dept 2005]; Ocwen Federal Bank FSB v Miller, 18 AD3d 527 [2d Dept 2005]; U.S. Bank Trust Nat. Ass’n v Butti, 16 AD3d 408 [2d Dept 2005]; First Union Mortgage Corp. v Fern, 298 AD2d 490 [2d Dept 2002]; Village Bank v Wild Oaks Holding, Inc., 196 AD2d 812 [2d Dept 1993]). Even if plaintiff HSBC can cure the assignment defect, plaintiff’s counsel has to address his conflict of interest in the representation of both assignor MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, and assignee HSBC. 22 NYCRR § 1200.24, of the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility, entitled “Conflict of Interest; Simultaneous Representation,” states in relevant part: (a) A lawyer shall decline proffered employment if the exercise of independent professional judgment in behalf of a client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by the acceptance of the proffered employment, or if it would be likely to involve the lawyer in representing differing interests, except to the extent permitted under subdivision (c) of this section. (b) A lawyer shall not continue multiple employment if the exercise of independent professional judgment in behalf of a client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by the lawyer’s representation of another client, or if it would be likely to involve the lawyer in representing differing interests, except to the extent permitted under subdivision (c) of this section. (c) in the situations covered by subdivisions (a) and (b) of this section, a lawyer may represent multiple clients if a disinterested lawyer would believe that the lawyer can competently represent the interest of each and if each consents to the representation after full disclosure of the implications of the simultaneous representation and the advantages and risks involved. [Emphasis added]

The Court, upon renewal of the instant motion for an order of reference wanted to know if both MERS and HSBC were aware of the simultaneous representation by plaintiff’s counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C., and whether both MERS and HSBC consented. Upon plaintiff’s renewed motion for an order of reference, the Court required an affirmation by Steven J. Baum, Esq., the principal of Steven J. Baum, P.C., explaining if both MERS and HSBC consented to simultaneous representation in the instant action with “full disclosure of the implications of the simultaneous representation and the advantages and risks involved.” The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, the Department, in which both Ms. Gazzo and Mr. Baum are registered (In re Rogoff, 31 AD3d 111 [2006]), censured an attorney for, inter alia, violating 22 NYCRR § 1200.24, by representing both a buyer and sellers in the sale of a motel. The Court, at 112, found that the attorney “failed to make appropriate disclosures to either the sellers or the buyer concerning dual representation.” Further, the Rogoff Court, at 113, censured the attorney, after it considered the matters submitted by respondent in mitigation, including: that respondent undertook the dual representation at the insistence of the buyer, had no financial interest in the transaction and charged the sellers and the buyer one half of his usual fee. Additionally, we note that respondent cooperated with the Grievance Committee and has expressed remorse for his misconduct. Then, if counsel for plaintiff HSBC cures the assignment defect and explains his simultaneous representation, plaintiff HSBC needs to address the “affidavit of merit” issue. The May 2, 2008 decision and order required that plaintiff comply with CPLR § 3215 (f) by providing an “affidavit made by the party,” whether by an officer of HSBC, or someone with a valid power of attorney from HSBC, to execute foreclosure documents for plaintiff HSBC. If plaintiff HSBC presents a power of attorney and it refers to a servicing agreement, the Court needs to inspect the servicing agreement. (Finnegan v Sheahan, 269 AD2d 491 [2d Dept 2000];Hazim v Winter, 234 AD2d 422 [2d Dept 1996]; EMC Mortg. Corp. v Batista, 15 Misc 3d 1143 [A] [Sup Ct, Kings County 2007]; Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co. v Lewis, 4 Misc 3d 1201 [A] [Sup Ct, Suffolk County 2006]).

Last, the Court required an affidavit from an officer of HSBC, explaining why, in the middle of our national mortgage financial crisis, plaintiff HSBC purchased from MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, the subject nonperforming loan. It appears that HSBC violated its corporate fiduciary duty to its stockholders by purchasing the instant mortgage loan, which became nonperforming on May 1, 2007, 133 days prior to its assignment from MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, to HSBC, rather than keep the subject mortgage loan on CAMBRIDGE’s books.

Discussion

 

The instant renewed motion is dismissed for untimeliness. Plaintiff made its renewed motion for an order of reference 204 days late, in violation of the Court’s May 2, 2008 decision and order. Moreover, even if the instant motion was timely, the explanations offered by plaintiff’s counsel, in his affirmation in support of the instant motion and various documents attached to exhibit F of the instant motion, attempting to cure the four defects explained by the Court in the prior May 2, 2008 decision and order, are so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authored by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction televison series, The Twilight Zone. Plaintiff’s counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C., appears to be operating in a parallel mortgage universe, unrelated to the real universe. Rod Serling’s opening narration, to episodes in the 1961-1962 season of The Twilight Zone (found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt005250/quotes), could have been an introduction to the arguments presented in support of the instant motion by plaintiff’s counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C. — “You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone.” With respect to the first issue for the renewed motion for an order of reference, the validity of the September 10, 2007 assignment of the subject mortgage and note by MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, to plaintiff HSBC by “Nicole Gazzo, Esq., on behalf of MERS, by Corporate Resolution dated 7/19/07,” plaintiff’s counsel claims that the assignment is valid because Ms. Gazzo is an officer of MERS, not an agent of MERS. Putting aside Ms. Gazzo’s conflicted status as both assignor attorney and employee of assignee’s counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C., how would the Court have known from the plain language of the September 10, 2007 assignment that the assignor, Ms. Gazzo, is an officer of MERS? She does not state in the assignment that she is an officer of MERS and the corporate resolution is not attached. Thus, counsel’s claim of a valid assignment takes the Court into “another dimension” with a “journey into a wondrous land of imagination,” the mortgage twilight zone. Next, plaintiff’s counsel attached to exhibit F the July 17, 2007 “Agreement for Signing Authority” between MERS, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, a Division of Wells Fargo Bank NA (WELLS FARGO), a MERS “Member” and Steven J. Baum, P.C., as WELLS FARGO’s “Vendor.” The parties agreed, in ¶ 3, that “in order for Vendor [Baum] to perform its contractual duties to Member [WELLS FARGO], MERS, by corporate resolution, will grant employees of Vendor [Baum] the limited authority to act on behalf of MERS to perform certain duties. Such authority is set forth in the Resolution, which is made a part of this Agreement.” Also attached to exhibit F is the MERS corporate resolution, certified by William C. Hultman, Corporate Secretary of MERS, that MERS’ Board of Directors adopted this resolution, effective July 19, 2007, resolving:

that the attached list of candidates are employee(s) of Steven J. Baum, P.C. and are hereby appointed as assistant secretaries and vice presidents of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., and as such are authorized to: Execute any and all documents necessary to foreclose upon the property securing any mortgage loan registered on the MERS System that is shown to be registered to the Member . . . Take any and all actions and execute all documents necessary to protect the interest of the Member, the beneficial owner of such mortgage loan, or MERS in any bankruptcy proceedings . . . Assign the lien of any mortgage loan registered on the MERS System that is shown to be registered to Wells Fargo.

Then, the resolution certifies five Steven J. Baum, P.C. employees [all currently admitted to practice in New York and listing Steven J. Baum, P.C. as their employer in the Office of Court Administration Attorney Registry] as MERS officers. The five are Brian Kumiega, Nicole Gazzo, Ron Zackem, Elpiniki Bechakas, and Darleen Karaszewski. The language of the MERS corporate resolution flies in the face of documents recorded with the City Register of the City of New York. The filed recordings with the City Register show that the subject mortgage was owned first by MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, and then by HSBC as Trustee for a Nomura collateralized debt obligation. However, if the Court follows the MERS’corporate resolution and enters into a new dimension of the mind, the mortgage twilight zone, the real owner of the subject mortgage is WELLS FARGO, the MERS Member and loan servicer of the subject mortgage, because the corporate resolution states that the Member is “the beneficial owner of such mortgage loan.” The MERS mortgage twilight zone was created in 1993 by several large “participants in the real estate mortgage industry to track ownership interests in residential mortgages. Mortgage lenders and other entities, known as MERS members, subscribe to the MERS system and pay annual fees for the electronic processing and tracking of ownership and transfers of mortgages. Members contractually agree to appoint MERS to act as their common agent on all mortgages they register in the MERS system.” (MERSCORP, Inc. v Romaine, 8 NY3d 90, 96 [2006]). Next, with respect to Ms. Gazzo’s employer, Steven J. Baum, P.C, and its representation of MERS, through Ms. Gazzo, the Court continues to journey through the mortgage twilight zone. Also, attached to exhibit F of the instant motion is the August 11, 2008 affirmation of Steven J. Baum, Esq., affirmed “under the penalties of perjury.” Mr. Baum states, in ¶ 3, that “My firm does not represent HSBC . . . and MERS simultaneously in the instant action.” Then, apparently overlooking that the subject notice of pendency, summons, complaint and instant motion, which all clearly state that Steven J. Baum, P.C. is the attorney for plaintiff HSBC, Mr. Baum states, in ¶ 4 of his affirmation, that “My firm is the attorney of record for Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., d/b/a America’s Servicing Company, attorney in fact for HSBC Bank USA, N.A., as Trustee for Nomura Asset-Backed Certificate Series 2006-AF1. My firm does not represent . . . [MERS] as an attorney in this action.” In the mortgage world according to Steven J. Baum, Esq., there is a fine line between acting as an attorney for MERS and as a vendor for a MERS member. If Mr. Baum is not HSBC’s attorney, but the attorney for WELLS FARGO, why did he mislead the Court and defendants by stating on all the documents filed and served in the instant action that he is plaintiff’s attorney for HSBC? Further, in ¶ 6 of his affirmation, he states “Nowhere does the Resolution indicate that Ms. Gazzo, or my firm, or any attorney or employee of my firm, shall act as an attorney for MERS. As such I am unaware of any conflict of interest of Steven J. Baum, P.C. or any of its employees, in this action.” While Mr. Baum claims to be unaware of the inherent conflict of interest, the Court is aware of the conflict. ¶ 3 of the MERS “Agreement for Signing Authority,” cited above, states that “in order for Vendor [Baum] to perform its contractual duties to Member [WELLS FARGO], MERS, by corporate resolution, will grant employees of Vendor [Baum] the limited authority to act on behalf of MERS to perform certain duties. Such authority is set forth in the Resolution, which is made a part of this Agreement.” As the Court continues through the MERS mortgage twilight zone, attached to exhibit F is the June 30, 2009-affidavit of MERS’ Secretary, William C. Hultman. Mr. Hultman claims, in ¶ 3, that Steven J. Baum, P.C. is not acting in the instant action as attorney for MERS and, in ¶ 4, Ms. Gazzo in her capacity as an officer of MERS executed the September 10, 2007 subject assignment “to foreclose on a mortgage loan registered on the MERS System that is being serviced by Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.” Thus, Mr. Hultman perceives that mortgages registered on the MERS system exist in a parallel universe to those recorded with the City Register of the City of New York. While Mr. Hultman waives, in ¶ 9, any conflict that might exist by Steven J. Baum, P.C. in the instant action, neither he nor Mr. Baum address whether MERS, pursuant to 22 NYCRR § 1200.24, consented to simultaneous representation in the instant action, with “full disclosure of the implications of the simultaneous representation and the advantages and risks involved” explained to MERS. Then, attached to exhibit F, there is the June 11, 2008-affidavit of China Brown, Vice President Loan Documentation of WELLS FARGO. This document continues the Court’s trip into “a wondrous land of imagination.” Despite the affidavit’s caption stating that HSBC is the plaintiff, Mr. or Ms. Brown (the notary public’s jurat refers several times to China Brown as “he/she”), states, in ¶ 4, that “Steven J. Baum, P.C. represents us as an attorney of record in this action.” The Court infers that “us” is WELLS FARGO. Moving to the third issue that plaintiff was required to address in the instant motion, compliance with the statutory requirements of CPLR § 3215 (f) with an affidavit of facts executed by someone with authority to execute such an affidavit, plaintiff’s instant motion contains an affidavit of merit, attached as exhibit C, by Kim Miller, “Vice President of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. as Attorney in Fact for HSBC,” executed on December 8, 2008, 220 days after my May 2, 2008 decision and order. The affidavit of merit is almost six months late. Again, plaintiff attached a photocopy of the July 19, 2004 “Limited Power of Attorney” from HSBC [exhibit D], which appointed WELLS FARGO as its attorney-in-fact to perform various enumerated services, by executing documents “if such documents are required or permitted under the terms of the related servicing agreements . . . in connection with Wells Fargo[‘s] . . . responsibilities to service certain mortgage loans . . . held by HSBC . . . as Trustee of various trusts.” Further, the “Limited Power of Attorney” fails to list any of these “certain mortgage loans.” Therefore, the Court is unable to determine if the subject mortgage loan is one of the mortgage loans that WELLS FARGO services for HSBC. The “Limited Power of attorney” gives WELLS FARGO the right to execute foreclosure documents “if such documents are required or permitted under the terms of the related servicing agreements.” Instead of presenting the Court with the “related servicing agreement” for review, plaintiff’s counsel submits copies of the cover page and redacted pages 102, 104 and 105 of the October 1, 2006 Pooling and Servicing Agreement between WELLS FARGO, as Master Servicer, HSBC, as Trustee, and other entities. This is in direct contravention of the Court’s May 2, 2008-directive to plaintiff HSBC that it provides the Court with the entire pooling and servicing agreement upon renewal of the instant motion. Thomas Westmoreland, Vice President Loan Documentation of HSBC, in ¶ 10 of his attached June 13, 2008-affidavit, also in exhibit F, claims that the snippets of the pooling and servicing agreement provided to the Court are “a copy of the non-proprietary portions of the Pooling and Servicing Agreement that was entered into when the pool of loans that contained the subject mortgage was purchased.” The Court cannot believe that there is any proprietary or trade secret information in a boilerplate pooling and servicing agreement. If plaintiff HSBC utilizes an affidavit of facts by a loan servicer, not an HSBC officer, to secure a judgment on default, pursuant to CPLR § 3215 (f), then the Court needs to examine the entire pooling and servicing agreement, whether proprietary or non-proprietary, to determine if the pooling and servicing agreement grants authority, pursuant to a power of attorney, to the affiant to execute the affidavit of facts.

Further, there is hope that Mr. Westmoreland, unlike Steven J. Baum, Esq., is not in another dimension. Mr. Westmoreland, in ¶ 1 of his affidavit, admits that HSBC is the plaintiff in this action. However, with respect to why plaintiff HSBC purchased the subject nonperforming loan, Mr. Westmoreland admits to a lack of due diligence by plaintiff HSBC. His admissions are straight from the mortgage twilight zone. He states in his affidavit, in ¶’s 4-7 and part of ¶ 10: 4. The secondary mortgage market is, essentially, the buying and selling of “pools” of mortgages. 5. A mortgage pools is the packaging of numerous mortgage loans together so that an investor may purchase a significant number of loans in one transaction. 6. An investigation of each and every loan included in a particular mortgage pool, however, is not conducted, nor is it feasible. 7. Rather, the fact that a particular mortgage pool may include loans that are already in default is an ordinary risk of participating in the secondary market . . . 10. . . . Indeed, the performance of the mortgage pool is the measure of success, not any one individual loan contained therein. [Emphasis added] The Court can only wonder if this journey through the mortgage twilight zone and the dissemination of this decision will result in Mr. Westmoreland’s affidavit used as evidence in future stockholder derivative actions against plaintiff HSBC. It can’t be comforting to investors to know that an officer of a financial behemoth such as plaintiff HSBC admits that “[a]n investigation of each and every loan included in a particular mortgage pool, however, is not conducted, nor is it feasible” and that “the fact that a particular mortgage pool may include loans that are already in default is an ordinary risk of participating in the secondary market.”

Cancelling of notice of pendency

 

The dismissal with prejudice of the instant foreclosure action requires the cancellation of the notice of pendency. CPLR § 6501 provides that the filing of a notice of pendency against a property is to give constructive notice to any purchaser of real property or encumbrancer against real property of an action that “would affect the title to, or the possession, use or enjoyment of real property, except in a summary proceeding brought to recover the possession of real property.” The Court of Appeals, in 5308 Realty Corp. v O & Y Equity Corp. (64 NY2d 313, 319 [1984]), commented that “[t]he purpose of the doctrine was to assure that a court retained its ability to effect justice by preserving its power over the property, regardless of whether a purchaser had any notice of the pending suit,” and, at 320, that “the statutory scheme permits a party to effectively retard the alienability of real property without any prior judicial review.” CPLR § 6514 (a) provides for the mandatory cancellation of a notice of pendency by: The Court, upon motion of any person aggrieved and upon such notice as it may require, shall direct any county clerk to cancel a notice of pendency, if service of a summons has not been completed within the time limited by section 6512; or if the action has beensettled, discontinued or abated; or if the time to appeal from a final judgment against the plaintiff has expired; or if enforcement of a final judgment against the plaintiff has not been stayed pursuant to section 551. [emphasis added] The plain meaning of the word “abated,” as used in CPLR § 6514 (a) is the ending of an action. “Abatement” is defined (Black’s Law Dictionary 3 [7th ed 1999]) as “the act of eliminating or nullifying.” “An action which has been abated is dead, and any further enforcement of the cause of action requires the bringing of a new action, provided that a cause of action remains (2A Carmody-Wait 2d § 11.1).” (Nastasi v Natassi, 26 AD3d 32, 40 [2d Dept 2005]). Further, Nastasi at 36, held that the “[c]ancellation of a notice of pendency can be granted in the exercise of the inherent power of the court where its filing fails to comply with CPLR § 6501 (see 5303 Realty Corp. v O & Y Equity Corp., supra at 320-321; Rose v Montt Assets, 250 AD2d 451, 451-452 [1d Dept 1998]; Siegel, NY Prac § 336 [4th ed]).” Thus, the dismissal of the instant complaint must result in the mandatory cancellation of plaintiff HSBC’s notice of pendency against the property “in the exercise of the inherent power of the court.”

Conclusion

 

Accordingly, it is ORDERED, that the renewed motion of plaintiff, HSBC BANK USA, N.A. AS TRUSTEE FOR NOMURA ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATE SERIES 2006-AF1, for an order of reference, for the premises located at 22 Jefferson Street, Brooklyn, New York (Block 3170, Lot 20, County of Kings), is denied with prejudice; and it is further

ORDERED, that the instant action, Index Number 34142/07, is dismissed with prejudice; and it is further

ORDERED that the Notice of Pendency in this action, filed with the Kings County Clerk on September 10, 2007, by plaintiff, HSBC BANK USA, N.A. AS TRUSTEE FOR NOMURA ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATE SERIES 2006-AF1, to foreclose a mortgage for real property located at 22 Jefferson Street, Brooklyn New York (Block 3170, Lot 20, County of Kings), is cancelled.

This constitutes the Decision and Order of the Court.

Judge Slashes ‘Fat Cat’ Bank’s Bill for Subpoenaed Documents

Mark Fass
New York Law Journal
December 28, 2009

A Brooklyn judge has rejected a bank’s request for $9,112 in costs for producing subpoenaed documents, calling the claim an example of the excess and greed among “fat cat bankers on Wall Street.”

JPMorgan Chase, a non-party in an action to confirm an arbitration award, sought 25 cents per page and $25 per hour for producing 18,248 pages of subpoenaed documents demanded by the petitioner.

In a blistering 11-page decision, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack granted JPMorgan Chase only $1,250.27, or about one-seventh of the amount the bank requested.

The judge quoted a recent interview of President Barack Obama on “60 Minutes” in which the president suggested that the greed of “fat cat bankers” played a role in the present recession.

“Clearly, Chase’s arbitrary $25.00 per hour … fee for the unsubstantiated 182 hours of research by person or persons unknown only helps to unjustly enrich ‘a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,'” Justice Schack wrote in Matter of Arbitration of Klein v. Persaud, 8007/09. “This Court is not a collection vehicle to further enrich already rich bankers.”

Schack called the bank’s CEO, James S. Dimon, the “fattest cat” at JPMorgan Chase, citing Dimon’s compensation of nearly $20 million in 2008.

Petitioner Abraham Klein initiated the underlying action to confirm a multimillion-dollar arbitration award against Christine Persaud and Caring Home Care Agency.

In July, Schack asked non-party JPMorgan Chase to submit an affirmation regarding its production expenses.

The bank claimed it provided Klein 18,248 pages of documents and requested $9,112 — $4,550 for locating and retrieving the documents and $4,562 for printing them.

In opposing JPMorgan Chase’s request, Klein called the bank’s demand “flawed and disingenuous.” He argued that the bank sought to be “rewarded for ignoring court orders” and reimbursed for pages it never produced. Klein also claimed that JPMorgan Chase flooded his attorneys with “thousands” of documents they never requested.

JPMorgan Chase denied those allegations.

“Chase produced approximately 12,000 pages by [the] deadline set by the Court … The 12,000 pages are responsive to petitioner’s unequivocal and explicit demand for all documents for that account,” the bank contended in court papers. “Chase has also produced more than 6,000 pages of documents for the other four accounts listed in the June 12th subpoena.”

Schack sided with Klein.

First, the judge reduced the bank’s hourly fee from $25 to $6.55 — the minimum wage in Indiana, where the judge believed the work may have been done, at the time the documents were produced.

“[T]he Court … is guided by the principal that ‘[o]rdinarily, the retrieval and evaluation of documents should be done by the lowest-level person consistent with accurate and reliable identification of the material called for,'” Schack wrote.

The 182 hours worked by JPMorgan Chase employees therefore came to $1,192, not $4,562, the judge concluded.

In order to determine the compensation rate per page the bank copied, the judge “examined” the Web sites of “three major stationary suppliers” and determined that a case of Hammermill Copy Plus Paper, containing 10 reams (i.e., 5,000 sheets) lists for $44.99, or a little less than a penny per page.

Schack therefore awarded JPMorgan Chase one cent per page for paper, plus an additional two cents for “toner, copier maintenance and electricity.”

The judge also noted that of the 18,248 pages that JPMorgan Chase produced, the bank placed 16,317 pages online, as opposed to printing them. For those pages, the bank only deserved compensation for labor and not supplies, the judge wrote, calling the bank’s claim “disingenuous.”

At three cents per page for only 1,939 pages, instead of 25 cents per page for 18,248, the bank deserved $58.17, not $4,562, Schack concluded.

The judge ordered Klein to pay JPMorgan Chase a total of $1,250.27.

Michelle E. Tarson of Simmons, Jannace & Stagg represented Chase. The firm did not return calls for comment.

Paulino J. Salazar and Mendel Zilberberg of Mendel Zilberberg & Associates in Brooklyn represented Klein.

Subprime Legal: Judges Scrutinize Mortgage Docs, Deny Foreclosures

By Amir Efrati JULY 25, 2008, 8:27 PM ET

foreclosureIt’s been about nine months since several federal judges in Ohio issued the widely-read amir foreclosure dismissals that shined a light on sloppy paperwork done by companies that specialize in handling foreclosures.

Since then, the WSJ reports tonight, other judges across the country have caught on and are carefully scrutinizing mortgage documents filed as part of foreclosures and dismissing cases based on mistakes they’re finding, which borrowers might be able to exploit when facing foreclosure. (For another good read on judges and lawyers working to staunch foreclosure, click here for a recent NLJ story.)

Among the issues hitting snags among the judges, according to WSJ:

“Backdated” mortgage assignments: Assignments, documents that transfer ownership of the mortgage, are executed after the foreclosure process has begun but state that they are “effective as of” a date prior to the foreclosure action. Some judges are dismissing those cases, saying attempts to retroactively assign the mortgage aren’t valid.

Suspicious multiple hats: Employees for mortgage companies are signing affidavits stating they are employees of one company, but other mortgage documents say they work at another firm. In some cases, an employee claims to work for companies on both sides of a transaction, prompting one skeptical judge to ask for that person’s work history for the last three years.

Shared office space: In foreclosure filings, one judge has found that numerous mortgage-related companies, including units of Wall Street banks, all claim to share the same address: a suite of a West Palm Beach, Fla., building. “The Court ponders if Suite 100 is the size of Madison Square Garden to house all of these financial behemoths or if there is a more nefarious reason for this corporate togetherness,” the judge wrote in a recent decision.

Judge SchackBrooklyn Crusader: The judge making Madison Square Garden references is Brooklyn’s own Arthur M. Schack (pictured) of Kings County Supreme Court, who has dismissed dozens of foreclosures sua sponte because of shoddy documents or suspicious patterns he notices in the filings.

Schack, 63, a former counsel to the MLB Players Association who is known for peppering his rulings with pop culture references such as Bruce Willis movies, says barely any of the foreclosures he has denied eventually are completed.

In one of his foreclosure dismissals, Schack (Indiana, New York Law School) cited the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” to make the point that homeowners now deal with “large financial organizations, national and international in scope, motivated primarily by their interest in maximizing profit, and not necessarily by helping people.”

In an interview, Schack, a Brooklyn native, told WSJ: “Taking away someone’s home is a serious matter. I’m a neutral party and in reviewing papers filed with the court, I have to make sure they’re proper.”

A ‘Little Judge’ Who Rejects Foreclosures, Brooklyn Style: Judge Arthur Schack

If other judges knew more of what really is than whats not perhaps they would also know the fraud that is being played in their court rooms.

By MICHAEL POWELL Published: August 30, 2009

The judge waves you into his chambers in the State Supreme Court building in Brooklyn, past the caveat taped to his wall — “Be sure brain in gear before engaging mouth” — and into his inner office, where foreclosure motions are piled high enough to form a minor Alpine chain.

 Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

“I don’t want to put a family on the street unless it’s legitimate,” Justice Arthur M. Schack said.

Every week, the nation’s mightiest banks come to his court seeking to take the homes of New Yorkers who cannot pay their mortgages. And nearly as often, the judge says, they file foreclosure papers speckled with errors.

He plucks out one motion and leafs through: a Deutsche Bank representative signed an affidavit claiming to be the vice president of two different banks. His office was in Kansas City, Mo., but the signature was notarized in Texas. And the bank did not even own the mortgage when it began to foreclose on the homeowner.

The judge’s lips pucker as if he had inhaled a pickle; he rejected this one.

“I’m a little guy in Brooklyn who doesn’t belong to their country clubs, what can I tell you?” he says, adding a shrug for punctuation. “I won’t accept their comedy of errors.”

The judge, Arthur M. Schack, 64, fashions himself a judicial Don Quixote, tilting at the phalanxes of bankers, foreclosure facilitators and lawyers who file motions by the bale. While national debate focuses on bank bailouts and federal aid for homeowners that has been slow in coming, the hard reckonings of the foreclosure crisis are being made in courts like his, and Justice Schack’s sympathies are clear.

He has tossed out 46 of the 102 foreclosure motions that have come before him in the last two years. And his often scathing decisions, peppered with allusions to the Croesus-like wealth of bank presidents, have attracted the respectful attention of judges and lawyers from Florida to Ohio to California. At recent judicial conferences in Chicago and Arizona, several panelists praised his rulings as a possible national model.

His opinions, too, have been greeted by a cry of affront from a bank official or two, who say this judge stands in the way of what is rightfully theirs. HSBC bank appealed a recent ruling, saying he had set a “dangerous precedent” by acting as “both judge and jury,” throwing out cases even when homeowners had not responded to foreclosure motions.

Justice Schack, like a handful of state and federal judges, has taken a magnifying glass to the mortgage industry. In the gilded haste of the past decade, bankers handed out millions of mortgages — with terms good, bad and exotically ugly — then repackaged those loans for sale to investors from Connecticut to Singapore. Sloppiness reigned. So many papers have been lost, signatures misplaced and documents dated inaccurately that it is often not clear which bank owns the mortgage.

Justice Schack’s take is straightforward, and sends a tremor through some bank suites: If a bank cannot prove ownership, it cannot foreclose.

“If you are going to take away someone’s house, everything should be legal and correct,” he said. “I’m a strange guy — I don’t want to put a family on the street unless it’s legitimate.”

Justice Schack has small jowls and big black glasses, a thin mustache and not so many hairs combed across his scalp. He has the impish eyes of the high school social studies teacher he once was, aware that something untoward is probably going on at the back of his classroom.

He is Brooklyn born and bred, with a master’s degree in history and an office loaded with autographed baseballs and photographs of the Brooklyn Dodgers. His written decisions are a free-associative trip through popular, legal and literary culture, with a sideways glance at the business pages.

Confronted with a case in which Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs passed a defaulted mortgage back and forth and lost track of the documents, the judge made reference to the film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the evil banker played by Lionel Barrymore.

“Lenders should not lose sight,” Justice Schack wrote in that 2007 case, “that they are dealing with humanity, not with Mr. Potter’s ‘rabble’ and ‘cattle.’ Multibillion-dollar corporations must follow the same rules in the foreclosure actions as the local banks,savings and loan associations or credit unions, or else they have become the Mr. Potters of the 21st century.”

Last year, he chastised Wells Fargo for filing error-filled papers. “The court,” the judge wrote, “reminds Wells Fargo of Cassius’s advice to Brutus in Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ ”

Then there is a Deutsche Bank case from 2008, the juicy part of which he reads aloud:

“The court wonders if the instant foreclosure action is a corporate ‘Kansas City Shuffle,’ a complex confidence game,” he reads. “In the 2006 film ‘Lucky Number Slevin,’ Mr. Goodkat, a hit man played by Bruce Willis, explains: ‘A Kansas City Shuffle is when everybody looks right, you go left.’ ”

The banks’ reaction? Justice Schack shrugs. “They probably curse at me,” he says, “but no one is interested in some little judge.”

Little drama attends the release of his decisions. Beaten-down homeowners rarely show up to contest foreclosure actions, and the judge scrutinizes the banks’ papers in his chambers. But at legal conferences, judges and lawyers have wondered aloud why more judges do not hold banks to tougher standards.

“To the extent that judges examine these papers, they find exactly the same errors that Judge Schack does,” said Katherine M. Porter, a visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a national expert in consumer credit law. “His rulings are hardly revolutionary; it’s unusual only because we so rarely hold large corporations to the rules.”

Banks and the cottage industry of mortgage service companies and foreclosure lawyers also pay rather close attention.

A spokeswoman for OneWest Bank acknowledged that an official, confronted with a ream of foreclosure papers, had mistakenly signed for two different banks — just as the Deutsche Bank official did. Deutsche Bank, which declined to let an attorney speak on the record about any of its cases before Justice Schack, e-mailed a PDF of a three-page pamphlet in which it claimed little responsibility for foreclosures, even though the bank’s name is affixed to tens of thousands of such motions. The bank described itself as simply a trustee for investors.

Justice Schack came to his recent prominence by a circuitous path, having worked for 14 years as public school teacher in Brooklyn. He was a union representative and once walked a picket line with his wife, Dilia, who was a teacher, too. All was well until the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.

“Why’d I go to law school?” he said. “Thank Mayor Abe Beame, who froze teacher salaries.”

He was counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association in the 1980s and ’90s, when it was on a long winning streak against team owners. “It was the millionaires versus the billionaires,” he says. “After a while, I’m sitting there thinking, ‘He’s making $4 million, he’s making $5 million, and I’m worth about $1.98.’ ”

So he dived into a judicial race. He was elected to the Civil Court in 1998 and to the Supreme Court for Brooklyn and Staten Island in 2003. His wife is a Democratic district leader; their daughter, Elaine, is a lawyer and their son, Douglas, a police officer.

Justice Schack’s duels with the banks started in 2007 as foreclosures spiked sharply. He saw a plague falling on Brooklyn, particularly its working-class black precincts. “Banks had given out loans structured to fail,” he said.

The judge burrowed into property record databases. He found banks without clear title, and a giant foreclosure law firm, Steven J. Baum, representing two sides in a dispute. He noted that Wells Fargo’s chief executive, John G. Stumpf, made more than $11 million in 2007 while the company’s total returns fell 12 percent.

“Maybe,” he advised the bank, “counsel should wonder, like the court, if Mr. Stumpf was unjustly enriched at the expense of W.F.’s stockholders.”

He was, how to say it, mildly appalled.

“I’m a guy from the streets of Brooklyn who happens to become a judge,” he said. “I see a bank giving a $500,000 mortgage on a building worth $300,000 and the interest rate is 20 percent and I ask questions, what can I tell you?”

Applications For Foreclosures By Mighty Banks Are Often Speckled With Mistakes

Applications For Foreclosures By Mighty Banks Are Often Speckled With Mistakes

by  Karen,   published:  Wednesday May 19, 2010

There is an adage fixed to the walls in front of the chambers of Judge Arthur M. Schack in Supreme Court Building at Brooklyn – “Be sure brain in gear before engaging mouth.” Inside foreclosures are piled up high enough to vie with the Alps. Each week the high and mighty banks of USA seek out his court to snatch the houses of New York residents who have failed in paying mortgage dues. Very often, said Schack, the applications of the banks are speckled with mistakes.

Judge Schack points out one motion coming from Deutsche Bank. The representative of the bank had claimed to be the vice president of two banks. His office was located in Kansas City but the notarization of the signature was in Texas. Moreover the bank was not the owner of the mortgage when it started with foreclosure proceedings against the borrower. Promptly the matter was dismissed.

Judge Schack said, “I’m a little guy in Brooklyn who doesn’t belong to their country clubs, what I can tell you? I won’t accept their comedy of errors.”

While there are hot debates and angst against bailing out banks and demands for more action to help homeowners, Judge Schack is sparring with the deadliest sword of all – the law. The law is being used to put them lenders in their places. The sympathies of the judge are clear for all to see.

In the previous two years 102 foreclosure places had come before him. He has tossed out from these 46 cases. His slicing decisions laced with allusions to the wealth of the bank presidents that are reminders of the legendary King Croesus, have won the respect of the legal fraternity across USA and especially in Florida, Ohio and California.

One or two bank officials have tried to stand up against him complaining that the judge has been depriving them of what is rightfully theirs. Recently HSBC made an appeal against a ruling complaining that the judge has set before others a “dangerous precedent” by behaving like “both judge and jury.” He has got rid of foreclosure cases even before getting any response from the house owners.

Together with few other state and federal judges, Justice Schack has held up a magnifying glass before the doings of the mortgage industry. During the past decade the bankers in heady haste handed out millions of mortgage loans with terms that were an admixture of good, bad and dangerously ugly.

NEW YORK COURT DISMISSES FORECLOSURE WITH PREJUDICE ON ILLEGAL MERS ASSIGNMENT EXECUTED BY COUNSEL FOR THE FORECLOSING PLAINTIFF

May 12, 2010

New York Judge Arthur Schack has dismissed another foreclosure case, this time with prejudice, as a result of an illegal MERS assignment which was “executed” by an attorney in the office of counsel for the Plaintiff, finding that the alleged assignment violated the New York Rules of Professional Conduct as doing so was a conflict of interest.

The Plaintiff was US Bank, N.A. as Trustee for the SG Mortgage Securities Asset-Backed Certificates, Series 2006-FRE2. The original lender was Fremont Investment and Loan. The purported Assigment of Mortgage (which did not assign the Note at all) was executed by a New York attorney as “Assistant Secretary and Vice-President” of MERS. As this attorney, signing for the assignor, listed her business address as that of the law office of the Plaintiff’s counsel (Steven J. Baum P.C.), which represented the assignee US Bank as Trustee, the Court found this to be a conflict of interest in violation of 22 NYCRR sec. 1200.0 Rules of Professional Conduct. Judge Schack dismissed US Bank’s foreclosure action with prejudice and cancelled the Lis Pendens.

We know that there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of these MERS assignments which have been executed by paralegals and others from the law offices of the Plaintiff’s foreclosure counsel as alleged “Vice Presidents” or “Assistant Secretarys” of MERS. This decision indicates that all such purported assignments are most likely illegal, void, and that any foreclosure action based on such an assignment should be dismissed with prejudice.

Jeff Barnes, Esq., www.ForeclosureDefenseNationwide.com

RELATED STORY: Lasalle Bank N.A. v Smith 2010: NY Slip Judge Schack does it again! Slams BAUM Law Firm!