NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently announced an agreement with New York Foreclosure Law Firm Steven J. Baum P.C., and Pillar Processing, LLC, which requires that they pay $4 million to the State of New York. $2 million of which will be used to assist homeowners facing foreclosure, or victims of predatory lending practices.
Excerpts from the Attorney General’s Press release:
The Attorney General’s investigation found that the Baum Firm routinely brought foreclosure proceedings without taking appropriate steps to verify the accuracy of the allegations or the plaintiff’s right to foreclose. From at least 2007 through sometime in 2009, Baum Firm attorneys repeatedly verified complaints in foreclosure actions stating, among other things, that the plaintiff was “the owner and holder of the note and mortgage being foreclosed,” when, in many securitized loan cases, the Baum Firm did not have documentary proof that the plaintiff was the owner and holder of the note and mortgage.
Complaints were prepared in an assembly-line fashion by non-attorney Pillar employees with inadequate attorney supervision. Baum Firm attorneys also improperly verified and notarized these complaints. Attorneys routinely signed complaint verifications — which stated, among other things, that the attorneys had read the complaints and knew their contents — without reviewing the contents of the complaints or the underlying documents such as the original note or mortgage or any mortgage assignments.
During certain time periods, attorneys often did not see complaints after they were prepared by Pillar employees. Instead, attorneys pre-signed and notarized verification and certification pages that were subsequently attached to the complaints and filed with the county clerks. Even after the practice of attaching pre-signed and notarized verification and certification pages changed, attorneys continued to verify complaints without reading them. Until sometime in 2011, the Baum Firm also failed to properly notarize documents signed by its attorneys. Baum Firm attorneys routinely signed documents without being in the notaries’ presence, and when documents were signed prior to notarization, did so without the required oath being administered. Indeed, some notaries even notarized documents that were signed by an attorney who was not present in the state at the time the documents were notarized.
The Baum Firm also repeatedly failed to timely file the Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI) required to be filed in residential foreclosure actions and a court-required affirmation attesting to the accuracy of the foreclosure summons and complaint. New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman implemented the attorney affirmation requirement in October 2010 in response to revelations of widespread deficiencies in foreclosure filings nationwide, including the execution of affidavits without personal knowledge of the facts, a practice referred to as “robo-signing.” The filing of the RJI triggers the scheduling of a settlement conference where potential loan modification options are explored, and also leads to notice being sent to local housing counselors that a homeowner is at risk of foreclosure so that counselors can reach out to the homeowner to provide assistance. Many homeowners were denied this assistance as a result of the Baum Firm’s failure to file RJIs in a timely manner.
New York homeowners who believe their homes were foreclosed based upon false or inaccurate documents filed in court should seek representation from an attorney. They may also file a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection by calling 800-771-7755 or visiting www.ag.ny.gov .
Read the full Press Release here.