Homeowners are dismayed and even claim court bias when the report of a self-proclaimed expert is barred from evidence. Or they become equally incensed when the court allows the report into evidence but gives it zero weight in rendering a decision. But the court is, to that extent, merely following the rules that govern what Judges should or should not do.
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THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.
It goes without saying that any report that has not been read and any testimony that has not been heard will be disregarded as a practical matter and in many cases as a legal matter. The Internet has been awash in offers of “magic bullet” analyses and reports that either directly or indirectly make the false promise of relief from foreclosure. Nearly all of the forensic analysts are self-proclaimed, unlicensed in any field requiring a license, inexperienced and untrained. What they are seem to share in common is the hope or belief that once a Judge lays eyes on the report, the decision will be rendered swiftly in favor of the homeowner.
Forensic analysis can theoretically be performed by anyone, which of course means that they are predominantly worthless even in their inception. Most analysts are looking for the wrong things and/or looking for things that are irrelevant and/or looking for things that will not be admitted into court record as evidence. Even an unopposed expert declaration or affidavit will either not be admitted into evidence by written report or oral testimony if it is delivered by such analysts. Homeowners are dismayed and even claim court bias when the report of a self-proclaimed expert is barred from evidence. Or they become equally incensed when the court allows the report into evidence but gives it zero weight in rendering a decision. But the court is, to that extent, merely following the rules that govern what Judges should or should not do.
The one thing in which most “successful” forensic analysts excel is selling. They tell homeowners what they want to hear when they need to hear it. It’s akin to imbibing a libation or drug to take the edge off for the moment but it doesn’t change a thing.
So let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. Does it matter if the analyst is unlicensed? NO. But if the analyst is unlicensed he or she will need to spend a lot more time giving testimony about how they acquired their expertise and how their work is based upon established frameworks of prior work in teases and other sources — and not merely a theory in their own head.
But the interesting thing is that when such experts do survive the challenges under Daubert or Frye (see below) the seemingly less qualified analyst frequently is able to explain to the court how he or she arrived at an opinion and then explains both the opinion and the basis of the opinion in clearer language than most “qualified” experts with far superior credentials.
Further the Banks’ Ostrich Strategy appears to have been working for the last 10 years. After tens of thousands of reports and expert declarations have been filed or served on behalf of homeowners, there are no reported instances in which an expert from the banks or servicers ever filed an affidavit or declaration in opposition to the experts who execute expert declarations for the homeowners. In fact, there are few instances in which the “expert” is even deposed, which thus removes the ability of the banks to challenge the expert. The end result has been that expert testimony is nearly always discounted or completely ignored. If the banks ignore it in litigation then so does the court.
But the unwillingness to make an issue of the expert declarations filed by homeowners may well have a downside, especially as more and more Motions for Summary Judgment are filed. As the courts are gradually changing course to consider the possibility that homeowners should win and that banks should lose, the time has come to file a motion for partial summary judgment on issues specifically raised and supported in a properly drafted expert declaration.
In the absence of an opposing affidavit, the court has little choice but to take the assertions as true as stated in the expert declaration for the homeowner. That leaves only the legal argument of whether the homeowner is entitled to the entry of summary judgment on the issues raised, inasmuch as the homeowner has effectively eliminated the issue or issues to be heard at trial.
For example suppose the expert’s opinion is that the trust was never funded, that the trust has no legal authority to administer the alleged loan because the loan was not in the trust, and that the trust therefore could never have purchased the debt or the note or the mortgage, and that the “servicer” appointed as servicer in the trust instrument (PSA) has no authority because the property (i.e., the loan) was never transferred into the trust and that the Trustee named in the trust instrument (PSA) also has no power over the subject loan because the trust never purchased the loan, the debt, the note or the mortgage, and perhaps also that the foreclosure is a grand illusion in which the banks and servicers are completing a scheme of civil theft of the investors’ money, and perhaps that the debtor-creditor relationship consists of the homeowner and the investors whose identities have been withheld by the banks.
In order to take those conclusions seriously, the court must hear that those conclusions are supported by understandable evidence that is based upon widespread axioms; since the conclusion is counterintuitive, it is important that the declaration be credible.
Hence the expert must bring in corroboration as part of the explanation of the reasoning in the expert declaration. Corroboration could be direct evidence (by the way, hearsay is allowed in expert testimony) or clear deductive reasoning that eliminates anything else as an alternative explanation; (e.g., if the trust had actually entered into a transaction in which it purchased the alleged loan or some part of it, then it would not assert that it was a holder but rather, as is custom and practice in the industry the trust would declare itself to be a holder in due course or the actual owner of the debt (not just the note and mortgage) and would gleefully have proven the purchase by offering a canceled check or wire transfer receipt into evidence).
By elimination of the elements of “good faith” and lack of knowledge of the borrower’s defenses (e.g. lack of consideration, non-merger of debt and note etc.) the only missing element would be that the Trust was not a successor to the original creditor regardless of whether the original creditor(s) was or were victims of theft or the actual payee on the note. Thus the conclusion that the Trust is not a holder in due course and should not be treated as one. And if it was the agent for an actual creditor, the Trust had failed to identify the creditors fro whom it was acting as agent. Note that such an admission would crash the entire trust and its beneficiaries under the weight of several violations of the Internal revenue Code turning all money handled by the “REMIC” into ordinary revenue and income.
One trick often used to bar such expert testimony is the 11th hour challenge either the day before or during trial. One New Jersey appellate court correctly assessed the situation has revealed in the following article:
Appeals Court Reverses Grant of “11th Hour” Motion to Strike Expert
Parties will frequently seek to strike the opinions offered by their adversaries’ experts as legally insufficient. While there are a variety of bases for such motions—including that the report does not set forth the “whys and wherefores” of the expert’s opinion, or that it does not satisfy other evidentiary rules for its admissibility—the strategic purpose is clearly to weaken or even destroy the opposing party’s case by barring key testimony. These limiting, or in limine, motions typically will be brought just before trial after the expert’s opinions have been discovered and often after the expert has given deposition testimony about the support for the opinion. A recent New Jersey Appellate Division case now seems to suggest that due process requires that (1) such a limiting motion must be made with enough time for the opponent to respond adequately, and (2) the trial judge must conduct a hearing prior to deciding to exclude the challenged expert’s opinions.
The issues arose in a lawsuit over a failed real estate deal, Berman, Sauter, Record & Jardim, P.C. v. Robinson, Dkt. No. A-5650-11T3 (App. Div., Nov. 17, 2016). The plaintiff law firm sued a seller claiming that it wrongfully breached a purchase agreement and caused the law firm’s loss of fees from the deal. The defendant seller then counterclaimed and filed a third-party claim alleging that the plaintiff and third-party defendant law firms had committed legal malpractice by failing to include an express termination clause in the purchase agreement, a claim supported by the opinion of a legal malpractice expert. The plaintiff law firm filed a pre-trial motion to strike the expert’s testimony because the expert did not explain the bases for his legal malpractice conclusion and his testimony was therefore an inadmissible “net opinion.” One week before trial, the pre-trial judge denied that motion “so that the trial judge can hear the testimony and determine whether the expert’s opinions—which seem to set forth the whys and wherefores at least in their reports—were [legally] sufficient[ ] . . .” Because the pretrial judge was not going to be available for the entire trial, a different judge presided over the trial. After jury selection, the trial judge decided to revisit the court’s prior in limine ruling on the expert. Without taking testimony, he concluded the expert had rendered a net opinion and thus excluded the testimony. Because the defendant was left without an expert to support its case, the trial judge also entered an order dismissing the legal malpractice claim and the remainder of the lawsuit quickly settled.
The Appellate Division reversed. The appeals court first noted that the motion to strike the expert was “nothing more than a thinly veiled summary judgment motion” because it essentially was dispositive of the defendant’s claims. The court recognized that the notice provisions for summary judgment motions were meant to satisfy due process by giving parties an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful matter. In addition to failing to provide the 28-day notice required for summary judgment motions, the motion did not give the “one week in advance of trial” notice required for an in limine motion, leaving the defendant with no opportunity to present written opposition. And, because the trial judge had not ruled on the earlier summary judgment motions in the case, he did not have the defendants’ opposition to that motion.
The appeals court held that the trial court should not have granted a motion that was dispositive of the plaintiff’s claim without holding a hearing under Rule 104 of the New Jersey Rules of Evidence. The trial court had decided the motion in a way that was “fundamentally unfair” to the defendant. Fairness required the trial court have conducted a hearing before “barring an expert’s testimony based upon a report, particularly if doing so will be dispositive of a case, when the expert has not had the opportunity to explain his opinions through testimony.” Slip op. at 10. The court left it to the trial court’s discretion whether to conduct the hearing before or during the trial.
The importance of the Berman, Sauter decision is that trial counsel can no longer leave to the last minute in limine motions that seek to exclude expert testimony or any other evidence that could be dispositive of the lawsuit. If trial counsel believes that expert’s opinions are inadmissible, it must give sufficient notice to the court and its adversary—and the Appellate Division suggested that it might not be enough just to comply with the one week notice provision if the in limine motion would have the same effect as a summary judgment motion. Berman, Sauter will make trial judges more likely to order pre-trial hearings when an in limine motion seeks to preclude the expert’s opinions and virtually a certainty if such a motion is made without the expert having given deposition testimony explaining his or her opinions.
Filed under: foreclosure | Tagged: affidavit, Daubert, declaration, due process, expert, Frye, HOLDER, holder in due course, in limine, Ostrich Strategy |