FORECLOSURES: A Legal Racketby Jason Flores-Williams
Every morning since I’ve set up my little law practice here in Santa Fe, I’ve gotten absolutely terrified phone calls from Northern New Mexicans about to lose their homes to foreclosure.
They tell me that they’ve spent hours, days, months on the phone with Bank of America, pleading their case, faxing and/or mailing bank statements, W-2s, proofs of title, mortgage, insurance, and notarized affidavits concerning deferred income retirement that had to be mailed and/or faxed again, and then again, and then three more times, because they couldn’t get the same “customer service” agent on the phone and thus had to explain their story for the hundredth time in order to get their loan modification approved and be reinstated, which they actually somehow did, heroically, but only after borrowing money from family to pay thousands of dollars in banking penalties, collection penalties, and most all, attorney’s fees, that they shouldn’t have had to pay to begin with because they only missed one installment three years ago after they got sick and have since made every single mortgage payment on time.
Yet, despite doing everything right, there she’d be on the phone with me at 7:45 a.m.: single mom with a baby in one arm, daughter crying in the background, asking me why she’s gotten a letter from some law office in Albuquerque saying that they’re going to throw her out in 30 days. And what I found time after time, foreclosure after foreclosure, was that it wasn’t just some law office in Albuquerque, but one or two particular law offices that were handling Bank of America foreclosures in Northern New Mexico.
So, I called them. I wrote them emails. I wrote them letters. I even offered to drive down and buy them lunch. I figured that they didn’t want to see innocent New Mexico families lose their homes. After all, they were just people like me who happened to go to law school. If they knew about the kind of damage that they were doing, then they would stop the machine. But I never once heard back from them. I couldn’t even make it past their personal secretaries. Here were children about to be thrown out onto the streets and I couldn’t even get a two-minute conversation with one of my esteemed colleagues. They couldn’t be bothered. They didn’t seem to care. With every foreclosure complaint that they filed, with every piece of paper that they sent out, with every document that they allegedly reviewed, they were getting rich. They were making big-time Bank of America money. Hundreds of dollars per hour off the suffering of others, getting wealthy by destroying lives.
Accordingly, now that Bank of America has openly admitted to making mistakes and frozen foreclosures in 23 states, I would like to know something: should the Albuquerque law offices that handled all those foreclosures give the money that they made back to the people whose lives they ruined? Should they be forced to give that Bank of America cash back to the people whose lives they turned into a living hell? And not just the Albuquerque law offices, but all the law offices across the country that worked for Bank of America during this foreclosure crisis?
They can plead ignorance, but corporate lawyers specialize in paper trails. They knew what was going on. They can say that they were just following orders, just doing their jobs—a hall of fame justification if there ever was one—but lawyers are people who make ethical choices just like you and me. In fact, we’re held to a higher standard. At the first sign of trouble, they should have gone back to Bank of America, said there was a problem, and fought for fairness, justice, due process, and the people and families of New Mexico. But they did nothing other than keep raking in that cash. Up until the day Bank of America stopped foreclosures, they were sending out civil action notices and trying to take people’s homes. What does that say about you, if at the end of the day, we can say that Bank of America is more ethical than you are?
Lawyers aren’t supposed to criticize each other within the profession. But from the Patriot Act to the Foreclosure Crisis, there has been an immoral silence within the bar. As long as we’re making money, then everything is okay. Well, some of us don’t believe that lawyers should allow themselves to be complicit in the destruction of the American dream. None of us are perfect—far from it—but we should stand for something more. So, for whatever it’s worth: To all the families who have suffered at the hands of Bank of America and its herd of lawyers, please accept this letter as an apology on behalf of those of us who would never have done this to you.
JASON FLORES-WILLIAMS is a lawyer in New Mexico.