California Bar Journal
CBJ - October 2009 #03.
Bar names foreclosure lawyers under scrutiny
California Bar JournalNovember 2009Bar names foreclosure lawyers under scrutinyAlarmed by complaints about the number of lawyers preying on vulnerable homeowners, the State Bar last month identified 16 attorneys who are under investigation for misconduct related to loan modification.
"In my 21 years in attorney discipline, I have not seen a crisis of this magnitude. It is truly unprecedented," said Interim Chief Trial Counsel Russell Weiner, who is waiving investigation confidentiality in favor of public protection. The waiver, allowed by statute, is rarely used, but Weiner said the seriousness of the problem demanded a strong reaction by the bar in order to protect consumers. This is the first time the names of more than a few lawyers being investigated have been made public.
"The number of attorneys using their law licenses to essentially take money from unwary, but trusting, consumers is astounding," Weiner added. "There are literally thousands of victims who have lost money they could not afford to lose. Under the circumstances, the need for public information and protection is paramount."
Those attorneys being named by the State Bar have allegedly taken fees for promised services and then failed to perform those services, communicate with their clients or return the unearned fees, Weiner said. Some attorneys misrepresented the services they could provide. "It appears these attorneys may have significantly harmed their clients who were already facing great financial pressure and the possible loss of their homes."
About one-quarter - almost 800 cases - of the active investigations in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OTC) are related to foreclosure complaints. The office has experienced a 58 percent increase in active investigations over 2008 due in large part to the huge increase in complaints against attorneys offering loan modification services.
"We are moving decisively with proceedings against those lawyers," said State Bar President Howard Miller.
"The profession as a whole has a responsibility here, and we must meet it. And as a part of that we also must expand our pro bono efforts to help clients who have been harmed by lawyer misconduct."
Last March, the State Bar created a special team of investigators and...