Justice Gundersen ignores tainted bank documents to justify foreclosures
By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Circuit Judge Andrea Gundersen, who heads the court foreclosure file, often rules for banks and against owners, even when banks use sketchy documents, according to a consumer watchdog in a recent report.
Released in May, the report received little attention until Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko made the dramatic decision to hold Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon and their attorney. disregard for not answering questions about possible fraud in a foreclosure case. .
Miami’s Third District Court of Appeals filed the case. If the banks do win, nurse Julie Nicolas will lose her nearly 30-year-old home in North Miami Beach.
The report by the nonprofit Floridians for Honest Lending (FHL) targets automatic signature, the discredited and illegal practice of treating foreclosure documents as assembly line products.
Endorsements that establish the lender’s legal right to foreclosure are stamped and robotically processed. The “signer”, a bank executive, could not know what was in the papers and vouch for their validity, as required by law.
In 2012, mortgage misconduct findings, including the signing of robots, were reportedly resolved with a $ 25 billion settlement between the top five mortgage agents and, on the other hand, 49 attorneys general. of States and the Department of Justice.
Robotic signing never ended
The following year, a dozen U.S. mortgage lenders, primarily Bank of America and its subsidiary Countrywide Financial, agreed to end the automated signing in a $ 9.3 billion settlement with the Office of the Comptroller. currency.
But the FHL report based on the South Florida court records 2019-2020 shows that the illegal robot signing persists. For example, stacks of mortgages issued by the infamous Countrywide bear the signatures of three bank executives – if the papers were legitimate, a trio that could boast of superhuman powers.
“It’s the same shit now,” said a foreclosure defense attorney who practices at Broward and commented anonymously, fearing retaliation. “It’s the same names over and over again. Obviously, from court records, what is on the documents are stamps. This is the proof there.
Consumer activist Laura Wagner, Executive Director of FHL, has linked the predatory mortgages that fueled the 2008 economic crisis to current practices.
“Banks got caught buying subprime loans at a discount. They made a bet on it and then they realized they had made a bad bet, but it was a lot of money, ”she said.
Now, banks are using every means available, including automated signing and other abusive tactics, to exploit the enormous value of outstanding mortgages, according to Wagner. “So they want everyone to close their eyes to this.”
Little media, regulatory control
The report states that “the reckless greed of the banks has left millions of properties with corrupt mortgages and promissory notes and the chain of title to those properties shattered, putting trial judges in the uncomfortable position of taking the banking industry. to part for these falsified documents or to evict a family from their house.
“Unfortunately, with little scrutiny from the media, legislators or regulators, our justice system has heavily favored the latter.”
FHL researchers looked at foreclosure complaints filed in Broward and Miami-Dade state courts in 2019 and found 369 with one of the few names stamped on the approval line. Gundersen handled 217 of the cases at Broward, closed 126 and never ruled once for a defendant owner.
Consistent with the numbers, Gundersen treats bank attorneys with much more courtesy than attorneys for owners who dispute suspicious documents, according to the report. He describes how she sometimes orders defense lawyers to pay the legal fees of their wealthy opponents.
She doesn’t conduct foreclosure trials, but oversees pre-trial maneuvers, then sends relatively few cases to Senior Judge Barry Stone for trial. “I respect him and love him and he’s actually trying to follow the law,” Broward’s anonymous defense attorney said.
The problem is that Gundersen is skewing the discovery and other preliminary matters towards the banks, the attorney said. “You have to deal with her first and she’s horrible with the borrower’s lawyer.” No one knows how many questionable Gundersen tusks go off the rails so they never reach Stone.
JQC survey on Gundersen?
The FHL report says that in April alone, Gundersen disqualified herself 19 times when she was accused of pro-banking bias. He says the owners have complained about her to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which is investigating the judges for ethics violations.
Privacy rules prevent Florida bulldog to verify the claim that the JQC is reviewing Gundersen’s actions.
Broward Chief Justice Jack Tuter, speaking on behalf of the court and Gundersen, responded to the FHL report. He did not respond to criticism of his attitude and approach.
Tuter said he was not aware of any issues involving questionable mortgage documents, but “this issue arose a few years ago during the foreclosure crisis. Several opinions from the West Palm Beach Fourth District Court of Appeals regarding the reliability of document custodians have helped clarify what judges might consider.
“I have every confidence that Judge Gundersen is following this round of cases and if it is again a significant issue, we hope the Fourth District will make rulings again if we don’t get the right ones. results, “he said in a statement.
FHL has also reviewed Miami-Dade Circuit Court records, where foreclosure cases are filed blind and assigned on behalf of the civil division judge, rather than going to a designated foreclosure judge. .
Researchers found that as of January 1, 2019, 310 Miami-Dade homes with endorsements signed by robots have been auctioned off – 21 of them during the pandemic, according to the report.
The Bruce Jacobs problem
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey, who heads the court’s civil division, responded with this statement: “In every case where a house has been sold, a presiding judge has reviewed the evidence in the case and has rendered a judgment, after which a foreclosure sale is set. . If a party does not agree with the judgment and believes that the judgment was wrong, the recourse is an appeal.
“To our knowledge, no error has been demonstrated in any instance that has been offered for sale,” Bailey said in her statement.
Miami-Dade judges looking to the Third District Court of Appeals for advice on how to deal with foreclosure fraud may instead see Bruce Jacobs’ problem.
Jacobs, the Miami attorney who represents Julie Nicolas in the high-profile Butchko case, has made it his mission to expose any loan service flaws that are hurting his foreclosure defense clients. He accused Gundersen and other judges of pro-banking bias and fought to keep them from hearing his cases.
The organized bar doesn’t like Jacobs’ confrontational style and may be on the verge of shutting him down. In an ethics hearing, Jacobs was convicted of undermining the integrity of the courts; the arbitrator will send a sanction recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court this month.
Driving “beyond the pale”
Akerman, the law firm that opposes Jacobs in the Nicolas case, has convinced the Third District to stay the trial proceedings while the firm attacks Butchko and his contempt order. Akerman’s lawyers were quick to note the fact that judges in the Third District have twice charged Jacobs with ethics violations.
This passage from the 2018 court opinion in Aquasol Condo Assn. vs. HSBC Bank suggests that the judges will not calmly listen to his arguments in the Nicolas case:
“Mr. Jacobs’ conduct… violated not only the rules governing the Florida Bar and the rules of appellate procedure, but the most basic standards of civility and professionalism.
“While judges and lawyers throughout their careers are subjected to isolated instances of incivility, instantaneous misconduct is beyond pallor, different not only in degree but in kind. It is a serious fault which can neither be excused nor ignored. “
One has to wonder if the indignant response to Jacobs’ combative approach obscures his message: Mortgage banks are using abusive and illegal tactics to separate owners from their homes.