I know from past experience that the prosecuting attorneys at bar associations tend to move in packs. There is actually a pretty good reason for this. Certain practices by attorneys are emulated by other attorneys and spreads from state to state. Based upon a recent decision in New York State, I believe we’re going to see some serious prosecutions against attorneys for the pretender lenders.
In this case the censured attorney, David A. Cohen, and his Long Island firm was trying to collect debts from people who weren’t already pay their bills or were not the ones who owed money to the firm’s client – creditors. I will concede that this is not the case against a foreclosure mill. And I think there is still political resistance to going after the lawyers who represent the pretender lenders. But if you look at the reasoning in this case, it is not hard to see where the New York State Bar Association is going with this.
There were voluminous complaints about the firm spanning a 16 year period. That suggests that in cases where the homeowner believes that the attorney representing the pretender lender is violated ethical rules, or where the attorney for the homeowner believes that to be the case, a grievance should be filed. But I caution people about doing this because they frequently don’t know enough about the facts to be sure if a violation occurred. It is unfair to attribute unethical conduct to an attorney who was merely advocating on behalf of a client and taking positions with which you do not agree. False filings will also create a paper jam in which the real filings for real violations get lost. SO don’t take this article as a green light to pepper the Bar Associations with vague grievances.
Cohen and his firm received numerous admonitions about his firm’s practices.
The court concluded in Matter of Cohen & Slamowitz, 2008-10218, that Cohen and Cohen & Slamowitz “engaged in a pattern and practice of conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice” under the Code of Professional Responsibility DR 1-102(A)(5)(223 NYCRR 1200.3[a]. The judges said an attorney does not necessarily have to have personal knowledge of the specifics of his firm’s misconduct to be held responsible.“Even if the individual respondent lacked personal knowledge of the particular client matters … the pattern and practice of misconduct established at the hearing, which were pervasive within C&S [Cohen & Slamowitz] since 1996, were sufficient to impute such knowledge to him as senior partner of C&S,” [e.s.] the panel held in its per curiam ruling. The judges added that not only was Cohen personally advised in 2002 to “exercise caution,” “supervise [his] staff adequately,” and put in place “appropriate and reasonable procedures” that could be monitored, but he and his firm also received numerous letters of caution and admonition. The court said Cohen & Slamowitz has about 300 employees, including attorneys, paralegals and other staff.
Among the problems noted by the court was an attempt in 2005 to collect from a debtor identified as “Ghulam Mujtaba” of Flushing. The court said that Cohen & Slamowitz mistakenly pursued collection from Dr. Gholam Mujtaba of Corona.
Given the various settlement and OCC consent decrees that have been entered against virtually all of the major banks and servicers, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which the lawyers have not been put on notice of the existence of major defects in the claims of their clients. Unlike civil litigation, lawyers are held to a higher standard of behavior in connection with their practice of law. The ethical and disciplinary rules make it clear that the lawyer should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Here in this case, the court opened up the possibility for imputing knowledge to the attorney even though there are attempts to create compliance departments and other organizational tools that are meant to isolate the actual licensed attorneys from the illegal conduct perpetrated by their firm.
If a bank came to me for representation in the foreclosure properties based upon loans that are subject to claims of securitization, I would make absolutely certain that there were procedures in effect within the bank to make sure that we were naming the right plaintiff, naming the right defendant, that a default was definitely present, and that we could account for the balance due. I would ask the bank “are you actually owed the money on this loan?”
The use of professional witnesses that are hired specifically for that purpose is somewhat understandable given the volume of foreclosure litigation. What is not understandable or forgivable is hiring people specifically for the purpose of giving false testimony based upon records that were specially prepared for trial and not prepared in the ordinary course of business. It is improper and perhaps perjury to state that the entire business record is present when it clearly does not show the original loan transaction, all the transactions that occurred between the time of the loan closing and the filing of foreclosure, and all the transactions that occurred as disbursements to trust beneficiaries or other third parties. It is improper and perhaps perjury to state that the entire business record is present when the witness cannot state from personal knowledge or with the use of business records that qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule, that the record of disbursements is also present — including all payments received by the alleged creditor.
Some attorneys haven’t thrown under the bus, but there are dozens of other law firms that may be involved in the production or proffering of false, fraudulent, fabricated or forged documents.
On the other hand it should be stated that withholding evidence is not necessarily a violation of the code of conduct for attorneys — unless the withholding of that evidence results in making prior testimony or evidence subject to a charge of perjury. I don’t think that attorneys can or should be held to a standard in which their conduct is subject to variable interpretations. Any grievance filed on these grounds must be very specific as to what is being alleged is a violation. I publish this article merely as a prediction and warning that certain behavior which is now condoned in the foreclosure mills can be and probably will be imputed to the partners, regardless of how well they think they have insulated themselves.
One of the things I wonder about is the practice of asserting in court that the attorney for the foreclosure represents “everybody.” The risk here is twofold: first that might include the trust beneficiaries that his client is screwing; second that might include the borrower because some of the parties included in “everybody” have a fiduciary duty to the borrower. I wonder if there are potential trap doors for the attorneys who are representing pretender lenders that include not only disciplinary complaints but perhaps joinder as defendants in a lawsuit filed for negligent undertaking.
As always, nothing in this article should be interpreted as a definitive statement on the law. Pro se litigants should consult with an attorney licensed in the area in which the property is located before making a decision or taking any action. Attorneys should do their own research and make their own decisions as to what constitutes a breach of ethics or a breach of the disciplinary rules.
Filed under: CASES, CORRUPTION, Eviction, evidence, expert witness, Fannie MAe, foreclosure, foreclosure defenses, foreclosure mill, GARFIELD KELLEY AND WHITE, GTC | Honor, investment banking, Investor, MBS TRUSTEE, MODIFICATION, Mortgage, Pleading, securities fraud, Servicer, TRUST BENEFICIARIES, trustee | Tagged: 2008-10218, attorney discipline, Bar grievances, code of professional responsibility, foreclosure mills, imputed knowledge, Matter of Cohen & Slamowitz, New York State, perjury, personal knowledge |