Last Modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.
The way a Sarasota man almost lost his home after bogus claims by out-of-town foreclosure attorneys made a good front-page story.
It may be rare that Berta got a judge to overturn a foreclosure sale on his Sarasota homestead by asserting he was never served with foreclosure papers. As you may have read in Monday’s Herald-Tribune, the foreclosure attorney claimed Berta could not be found and therefore his house was abandoned. That despite the fact Berta is a local business owner who was easily findable.
Still, if that were an isolated glitch, I might not be doing a column. But there’s much evidence, as the Florida Bar has confirmed, that some bulk-rate foreclosure firms are seriously cutting corners. And why not?
They can usually file sloppy documents with unverified and false claims and get away with it, because most foreclosures are not contested. Usually, nobody even skims through the documents.
A recent court ruling says judges don’t need to. The checking is up to homeowners.
That has led to filings so ridiculous that I thought anti-foreclosure lawyer April Charney was kidding when she e-mailed a recent find from Lee County. It is a template, a fill-in-the-blanks foreclosure document, that foreclosure-mill lawyers filed in court as a real one, with almost nothing filled in.
But though law office employees or contractors apparently forgot, or didn’t bother, to fill in names of key parties in that foreclosure, some ironic truth was left in there, Charney says. Where there should be names of the investment company that allegedly held the mortgages or transferred it to another company, the court document lists “Bogus Assignee” and “Bad Bene” (beneficiary, it seems).
“It’s a cruel joke,” says Charney, a Legal Aid lawyer who has been teaching foreclosure seminars for area lawyers and judges. “We are finding these all over the country.”
Such flagrantly self-identifying bogus documents are only a bit more obvious and extreme than routine ones that often have equally shaky and unproven mortgage assignment claims, Charney says.
“It really is kind of pathetic,” she says, and it shows why judges should be angry, and why more struggling homeowners should get legal help.
Berta’s lawyer, Betsy Young, says she has several more clients who found out their homes were being foreclosed only because local law firms read it in legal ads, and sent word.
Those local firms, when coming to deliver eviction notices, had no trouble contacting the homeowners, right at the very homes the foreclosing attorney claimed were empty.
Tom Lyons can be contacted at tom.lyons@heraldtribune .com or (941) 361-4964.
But some aspects of William Berta’s story are not all that unusual.