Practice Note: Hearsay is not evidence and should not be used as the basis for any conclusion of facts that would support any conclusion of law. While the banks are extremely vulnerable to having all testimony and documents barred by the hearsay rule, this is ONLY true if the proper objection is made at the proper time — and objections should be made when opposing counsel makes reference to the content of those records as though they were already established. Although representations by counsel are not evidence, the attorney’s failure to object to the representation is a failure to bring to the Judge’s attention the fact that you contest those assertions. The objection could be phrased that counsel is attempting to get his own representations on record based upon facts that are in dispute and not in the record. A good record of those objections — including the use of a court reporter — is the basis for appeal. Without that record the Judge is inclined to do whatever he or she wants and while it is possible to re-establish the record in the absence of a court reporter it is very difficult and time-consuming. The reviewing court looks only to the record. If the objection does not appear, then the reviewing court has no choice but to affirm the lower court decision. An appeal is NOT an opportunity to retry the case. on substantive grounds. It is primarily a vehicle to contest the procedures and rulings in the court below as to procedure and the admissibility of evidence.
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Editor’s Analysis: Business records are ALWAYS hearsay and barred by the hearsay rule in state and Federal courts. The question is not whether the business records are hearsay but rather whether the records are deemed reliable enough to waive the requirement of testimony from those with knowledge of the facts offered to prove the case of the proponent of those records. If they are deemed reliable by the Judge then they are allowed to be admitted as evidence to prove the truth of the matters asserted in those records. The tests for reliability are in the statutes of each state and the Federal rules of evidence that allow for exceptions to hearsay in order to allow the business records into evidence, which ARE hearsay and otherwise barred as evidence, under the “business records exception.”
The general rule is that evidence consists of testimony from a knowledgeable witness competent to testify as to the matters asserted. Competency of witnesses is determined by oath, personal perception of events, memory and the ability to communicate the facts as personally experienced, viewed, or heard by the witness. The business records exception requires the custodian of records to provide the foundation for asserting the business records exception. This is the starting point.
The custodian of records must be established by foundation testimony and should not be allowed without testimony that demonstrates the witness’ scope of employment, knowledge and authority. Objection should be made when the leading question is asked “Are you the custodian of the records?” An objection is required that the question is leading and lacks foundation — showing the facts and circumstances under which the witness should be accepted by the court as the custodian of the records.
The records must be from a source that is relevant to the proceedings. If the party seeking foreclosure is an asset pool, represented by a trustee, then the business records of the trustee are the only thing that is relevant unless the foundation is laid by opposing counsel to show that the records of the servicer matches the records of the trustee.
TESTIMONY OF THE SERVICER: Without the custodian of records for the trustee, it seems impossible to establish the proper foundation showing that the trustee asserts that the records of the trustee are the same as the servicer. And if that is true, there may be no reason for the servicer to testify as to the business records since it is only the trustee who can account for all money paid out and all money received, directly or indirectly on account of the subject loan.
[NOTE: THE TRUSTEE SHOULD BE ABLE TO TESTIFY THAT IT IS THE TRUSTEE OF THE TRUST THAT OWNS THE SUBJECT LOAN AND TO PRODUCE DOCUMENTS SHOWING THE SALE OF THE LOAN TO THE TRUST OR ASSET POOL. REMEMBER THAT A SALE REQUIRES CONSIDERATION AND THUS THE RECORDS SHOULD INCLUDE A RECORD OF THAT SALE, THE AMOUNT PAID, AND THE DOCUMENTS MEMORIALIZING THAT TRANSACTION.]
The witness who testifies for the proponent of the documents sought to be admitted into evidence must be competent to testify as records custodian that the trust has been and still is the owner of the loan. The banks will vigorously oppose your effort to hold their feet to the fire because all indications are that the trustee has no records and doesn’t even have a bank account for the “trust’ or asset pool, much less evidence of the amount paid for the loan, and the documents memorializing the “transaction.”
In many cases, the case for ownership or foreclosure collapses completely because in fact the trust or pool never did acquire ownership because there was no sale and the trustee never had any records showing the money paid by the homeowner or other parties who may have paid down the loan under non-subrogated obligations to payoff the debt. The creditor only being entitled to recover once on the debt, must show that there were no mitigating payments received by the trustee or anyone on its behalf as agent, servant or employee or affiliate.
In truth the relevant records are either wholly within the records of the MASTER SERVICER and neither the subservicer that the proponent wishes to offer nor the trustee has a complete record who who funded the origination or purchase of the loan. Thus while the business records of the sub-servicer might eventually be admitted over objection of the homeowner, it can and should be argued that this is only a partial picture; this accomplished on cross examination or if possible voir dire, where the witness is questioned as to what they don’t know, to wit” the details of the origination, purchase or funding of the loan together with all receipts relating to the loan account directly or indirectly.
Having started with the question of whether the witness is in fact a records custodian, the question then becomes whether the proffered witness is the only records custodian. At one trial recently conducted the witness was (a) not a custodian, (b) declared that the records came from numerous “clients” and other departments, the identity of the custodian of those records never being mentioned.
[Practice Note: When the witness is from the “loss mitigation department” or some similar division or department, they are by virtual definition not the records custodian, and cannot be a competent witness to testify as to the records. On voir dire conclusion the objection should be made that the witness is not the records custodian for any or all of the records sought to be introduced and is therefore not competent to provide the foundation for the business records exception to the hearsay rule.]
The first requirement (see Florida statutes below for example) to test the reliability of the records is that the the record entry be made at or near the time of the event.
If the servicer is testifying, then the servicer cannot testify as to the either the origination or sale of the loan, both having preceded the involvement of the servicer virtually by definition. While the impulse of the court is going to be presume that the closing was completed, this is overcome by the denial of the homeowner that the closing was in fact completed because the named payee on the note and mortgage never fulfilled their obligations — to fund the loan. It is not enough to be the party who caused the loan to be made —- that is a mortgage broker who obviously has not rights to ownership or foreclosure. This leaves the proponent with the requirement of proving up the completion of the initial transaction showing the funding by testimony of a competent witness (custodian of records of the relevant parties) to show payment and receipt of the funding of the origination or sale of the loan.
The second test relates to competency of the witness which is that the person offering the testimony or even the affidavit must show that they are a person with personal knowledge sufficient to be either the records custodian or a witness to the event.
The banks in Florida will attempt to get around this problem by offering a certification, but the certification must contain sworn statements as to the personal knowledge of the person who executes such certification. The requirements of testimony on the stand are NOT waived by virtue of submitting a certification. Without establishing the competency of the person to be admitted as a witness custodian of the records, the certification is a sham. And such certification should be determined before trial in a motion in limine before trial begins or objection to certification (see below).
The “certification” must contain the same required statements of fact that would otherwise be required on the stand as a live witness. Timeliness of objections is the key to trial practice. Failure to object and take the offensive on this issue will result in documents being admitted into evidence that establish a prima facie case when no such case exists.
If a certification is intended to be used, the homeowner must receive notice of such intent, the identity and contact information for the person signing the certification and an opportunity to challenge the veracity of the statements contained in the certification and the authenticity of the documents itself given the constant practice of robo-signing and surrogate signing.
Discovery is appropriate to require the proponent of the certification to show the employment record and other indicia that the person is indeed a custodian of all the records and that all the records sought to be introduced at trial are within the custody of the witness. A trick often used in court is that the witness will testify as to custody of one document and without an alert objection from the homeowner, the rest of the documents, which are hearsay, are then admitted into evidence without the certification or the foundation because the homeowner failed to object.
Failure to give notice of the intent to use certification in lieu of live testimony is fatal at trial — if the homeowner objects. Certification should ALWAYS be met with a well written objection — and fee free to plagiarize anything in this article. In most cases in an abundance of caution, the Judge will require live testimony in lieu of certification.
Conversely, failure to object to the certification may well leave the homeowner in the cold, because by the time the trial begins all acts necessary to the prima facie case of the proponent of foreclosure or ownership of the loan will have already been established.
Florida Statutes 90.803 et seq: in pertinent abstract is as follows:
(6) RECORDS OF REGULARLY CONDUCTED BUSINESS ACTIVITY.–
(a) A memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, in any form, of acts, events, conditions, opinion, or diagnosis, made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge, if kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity and if it was the regular practice of that business activity to make such memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, all as shown by the testimony of the custodian or other qualified witness, or as shown by a certification or declaration that complies with paragraph (c) and s. 90.902(11), unless the sources of information or other circumstances show lack of trustworthiness. The term “business” as used in this paragraph includes a business, institution, association, profession, occupation, and calling of every kind, whether or not conducted for profit.
(b) Evidence in the form of an opinion or diagnosis is inadmissible under paragraph (a) unless such opinion or diagnosis would be admissible under ss. 90.701-90.705 if the person whose opinion is recorded were to testify to the opinion directly.
(c) A party intending to offer evidence under paragraph (a) by means of a certification or declaration shall serve reasonable written notice of that intention upon every other party and shall make the evidence available for inspection sufficiently in advance of its offer in evidence to provide to any other party a fair opportunity to challenge the admissibility of the evidence. If the evidence is maintained in a foreign country, the party intending to offer the evidence must provide written notice of that intention at the arraignment or as soon after the arraignment as is practicable or, in a civil case, 60 days before the trial. A motion opposing the admissibility of such evidence must be made by the opposing party and determined by the court before trial. A party’s failure to file such a motion before trial constitutes a waiver of objection to the evidence, but the court for good cause shown may grant relief from the waiver.
(7) ABSENCE OF ENTRY IN RECORDS OF REGULARLY CONDUCTED ACTIVITY.–Evidence that a matter is not included in the memoranda, reports, records, or data compilations, in any form, of a regularly conducted activity to prove the nonoccurrence or nonexistence of the matter, if the matter was of a kind of which a memorandum, report, record, or data compilation was regularly made and preserved, unless the sources of information or other circumstances show lack of trustworthiness.
(8) PUBLIC RECORDS AND REPORTS.–Records, reports, statements reduced to writing, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth the activities of the office or agency, or matters observed pursuant to duty imposed by law as to matters which there was a duty to report, excluding in criminal cases matters observed by a police officer or other law enforcement personnel, unless the sources of information or other circumstances show their lack of trustworthiness. The criminal case exclusion shall not apply to an affidavit otherwise admissible under s. 316.1934 or s. 327.354.
Filed under: Eviction, foreclosure, GARFIELD GWALTNEY KELLEY AND WHITE, GTC | Honor, Investor, Mortgage, securities fraud Tagged: | business records exception, certification, competent witness, custodian of records, hearsay, Master Servicer, Motion IN Limine, OBJECTIONS, relevance, servicer, sub servicer, trustee, witness