Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mortgage-servicing Squaliforme takes yet another swing

The seemingly-endless legal saga of Robert John Wright passed another milestone on Tuesday, December 12th, more than 10 years since Bank of America and EMC Mortgage began their relentless and apparently illegal pursuit of his home.

Looking at what’s available in the court records, one can discern that Wright has not only done a lot of his own work over the years (including an appeal to the Supreme Court) but he’s also had a number of attorneys from time to time over the years, including Washington DC’s “Pro bono lawyer of the year,” Rawle Andrews. As it turns out, looking at the case histories in the Dallas courthouse, he’s even been represented by one of the area’s most prestigious firms – for a while, that is.

That’s what probably tripped him up in the long run. The more EMC spent the more they couldn’t afford to lose. They have to spend everything it takes, and obviously will; a precedent ruling against EMC in these cases could attract the plaintiff’s bar in very large numbers.

In one facet of the on-going brush war, Michael Swartzendruber of Fulbright and Jaworski’s Dallas office testified EMC brought F&J in because of who was representing Wright at that time, one Bobby Rubbarts of Hughes and Luce. Good lawyerin’ costs big bucks in that part of Texas.

But Wright, of course, was penniless (he more recently has filed an indigency motion to obtain a transcript of his trial, so that status apparently hasn’t changed), and Rubbarts must have thought there was plenty of fire under all the smoke being generated by EMC’s counsel of record at that time.

Rubbarts took on the Wright case pro bono in 2003, EMC added F&J to their team and the trial actually got going in early December of 2004. After the Judge appeared to run out of patience and time during the trial, she ordered them back into a third settlement conference which took place just before Christmas of '04.

They apparently reached an accord but Wright was disputing that in later filings. According to the property tax rolls, EMC obtained the property in January of 2005. According to the forum, Wright has apparently been in the house since then and is now out.

What went wrong with the settlement is the subject of yet another round of motions and hearings that surfaced in late 2005 and have crawled along ever since, with one of the appeals ending in a rather bizarre scenario if one reads the appeals court ruling – he apparently didn’t pay the fee at the time he filed the appeal. The court record of the dismissal says he was notified twice but given the stakes involved it’s hard to imagine he’d have come this far and then simply let it drop by not paying the fee. But stranger things have happened in this case.

Wright also filed a bankruptcy petition (pro se), late in October, apparently in part to stave off the earlier massive legal-expense ruling he lost. EMC won a round that is still destined for appeal and went after Wright for F&J’s legal expenses. We’re talking well into six-figures in legal expenses for just F&J’s team which is led by Swartzendruber.

EMC, through F&J of course, filed and obtained a lift of the automatic stay after a hearing. Turns out, though, Wright isn’t the owner any more and hasn’t been since January of 2005. To make a long story shorter, EMC apparently obtained a Writ of Possession a few weeks ago.

Now, to say EMC was stupid in this case is an understatement. All told, in ten years, this squaliforme has probably poured out nearly a half-million dollars in legal expenses alone, knowing full well it will never recoup them. At a time where lenders are allegedly worried about the growth in foreclosures, they were willing to spend anything to get this house (which is on the tax rolls for $240,340). Even the $6M loss to the Starks hasn't persuaded them to change the way they play the equity-theft game.

From this distance, it seems All EMC would have had to have done is fix some rather simple accounting screw-ups that Bank of America made when EMC bought the loan. But that isn’t what EMC is in the business to do. In most cases, they get the property and equity much faster. As with most cases that actually involve a lawsuit, they decided to try and spend Wright into oblivion, and when they ran up against attorneys willing to put up a fight, they had to keep spending and spending. Which means there is plenty to hide. Stealing people’s homes can be expensive business and is best done out of the light of day.

Something tells me it ain’t over.

The Honorable Judge Roy Bean

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The action actor plays the fool

The recent media coverage of the "plight" of action-star Wesley Snipes has shed a little mainstream-news light on the schemers who lure people into the legal mythology sometimes referred to as the "patriot" or "sovereign" movement.

In this through-the-looking glass legal lalla-land, old conspiracies seem to gain new life every few years. They get ressurected and thrive on gullible people who really want to believe in them, and the operators of schemes have learned how to put the right spin on some very old and very tired (but completely legally debunked) mythology, including not having to pay income taxes.

There are too many of these crazies to list here (but at the left you can find most of them at the Quatloos site), and in the grand scheme of things, they really don't have a statistically-significant army of followers who will do anything other than read and comment as opposed to act on the recommendations. Some of the promoters are in prison or about to be or are under investigation. Others exhibit simple confused ramblings or completely incoherent and bizarre theories. They argue (colorfully sometimes) among themselves about who has the most successes. A few try to make a living off convincing people they can get out of everything from traffic tickets to income taxes.

Somehow, Snipes found himself listening to an acolyte/promoter of one of the anti-IRS "don't have to pay tax" schemes, one Eddie Kahn. Another long-term promoter of legal nonsense, Barton Buhtz, is being roped in with Eddie and their "defense" is studded with the typical legal absurdities so common to these myths.

In order to understand how far out of reality these promoters operate, one has to step into the realm of believing a long string of utterly absurd conspiracy theories that tie non-existent events together into a tangle of legal nonsense. You also have to ignore competent legal advice and assume the entire judicial structure of the US doesn't really have any authority over you if you just do and say the right things.

A combination of ignorance (in part due to lack of educational focus), an innate desire to believe in conspiracies and of course the Internet itself have created a fertile field for scheme promoters. Years ago, they sold a few books and cassette tapes through word-of-mouth and might have even sold seats in seminars. Now they have the Internet and find a new audience every day.

And it's all just "educational material," and protected free speech, right up until some poor fool winds up trying their new, super-duper-secret strategy in a real legal setting. They make themselves appear not only guilty, but in a few cases even mentally unfit to stand trial. As one Judge put it, the defendant might as well have tried to convince the court that the earth was flat. The defendant wasn't happy about that at all; the "attorney in black robes" was supposed to have simply rolled over and played dead and dismissed the charges under the onslaught of legal accumen. After all, that's what all those guys who post their stories on various forums say happened when they used whoever's method.

Some are less dangerous than others. Some admit they haven't actually tried their techniques in court but of course have heard of lots of successes (which for privacy reasons, they really can't list the actual case cite). One David Van Pelt of Colorado Springs goes by the name of David Merrill (in part to disassociate himself with a prior federal conviction in the Montana Freeman fiasco). He wanders in and out of coherent thought on various Internet forums and on sites he maintains. A short review of his writings, methods and strategies is enough to convince the vast majority of readers that he is truly delusional or at most, just a harmless nut. But someone who doesn't have much common sense or hasn't studied some of the more bizarre nonsense may be lured into trying things that result in being prosecuted.

Of course, Van Pelt risks nothing in trying to get people to try and discern what he's talking about long enough to try his methods; few of these kinds of fiction writers ever do face suit or prosecution unless one of their client/followers (like Snipes) raises their theory to the level of doing things like defrauding the government based on what they have advised.

And a fool willing to try these kinds of things in civil matters (like debt collections or foreclosure) will have unclean hands trying to go after the author/promoter when they lose their case.

So all one can hope to do is warn reasonable folks that taking advice from people who promote unsound and irrational conspiracy-driven legal nonsense is the path to more trouble, not less.

Just ask Wesley Snipes - in a few months.

The Honorable Judge Roy Bean