Florida Circuit Court Judge Maxine Cohen Lando is joining with members of the judiciary across the country (especially Massachusetts) in coming down hard and decisively in cases involving fraudulent documentation in foreclosure proceedings. In fact, Miami-Dade Judge Lando has garnered national spotlight this week, as she held Marc Ben-Ezra, the head of the well-known, Hollywood, Florida law firm, Ben-Ezra & Katz, in contempt of court for documents filed by his law firm.
Contempt of court? It’s a big deal.
Being held in contempt of Court isn’t an everyday occurrence, and it’s very rare for attorneys to be held in contempt of court (where they can face jail time and fines). What made Judge Lando so upset that she held him in contempt? According to media reports, last Friday Judge Lando voiced her concern over a July foreclosure where a judgment had been entered for $265,134 even though the purported original note and the original mortgage did not get filed of record until months later (the excuse why they were filed so late was that the bank believed them to be lost).
Judge Lando believed that seeking a judgment without these documents was a fraud on the court and was upset for other reasons as well. Both the note and the mortgage belong to a different property (one in Lehigh Acres, not Homestead), and the icing on the cake: the filings were not signed correctly and there was no proper notarization. All very bad stuff, as any bank foreclosure lawyer should know.
So, Judge Lando issued a show cause order which itemized all these flagrant errors, demanding that Ben-Ezra & Katz, the law firm responsible for the foreclosure filings, appear before her and show cause why they should not be held in contempt. She found the law firm’s representative in contempt last Friday in a Court Order and dismissed the foreclosure case and banning the lender from refiling it. Pretty powerful stuff and a wake-up call to banks and their lawyers.
Firm Name Partner Found In Contempt; Fannie Mae Fires the Firm – Result: Massive Lay Off of Law Firm Employees
No one is claiming that Mr. Ben-Ezra is personally responsible for the documents; however, as captain of the ship, the court is holding him responsible. Moreover, he had a clean disciplinary record — before now — and according to the law firm web site, both Mr. Ben-Ezra and his partner, Martin Katz, have been named by Miami Metro Magazine as some of the top real estate attorneys in South Florida..
That’s not all the bad news for this foreclosure law firm. On Valentine’s Day, the law firm laid off around half of its 568 employees. According to the law firm’s official statement, it had no choice. Why? Days before it had lost its big client.
Seems Fannie Mae fired the law firm as its legal counsel after discovering that the firm failed to be “… in strict compliance with proper procedures, ethical codes of conduct and legal requirements.” (Apparently, Fannie Mae heard about Judge Lando’s ruling.)
Big News: Florida Court Erases the Foreclosure as well as Liability for the Underlying Debt
However, the real news is here: remember the homeowner who thought that he had lost his home to foreclosure last July? The Judge through out that judgment and forbid the bank from refiling. This is great news for that family. However, that news isn’t good for the bank nor for whomever may have bought that home and is innocently living there now, thinking they have legal title, …. and it’s certainly not good news for the new homeowner’s title insurance company.
This is the right result for this case. What the Ben-Ezra Katz law firm did was fraudlent and they continued to try and conceal it throughout the whole case. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will most likely pull more files from other firms if they discover similar practices. The foreclosure firms need more oversignt and accountability before the lenders should be allowed to terminate a borrower’s ownership and right of possession. What happened here happened for the right reasons.