Huffpost Los Angeles

California Foreclosure Lawsuits: Bank Of America's 'Worst Nightmare?'

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CALIFORNIA FORECLOSURE LAWSUITS
AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles judge has issued an injunction prohibiting several lawyers, direct marketers and call center operators from continuing with an alleged nationwide scheme to dupe desperate homeowners into paying thousands of dollars to join dubious lawsuits against big banks.

Superior Court Judge Louis Meisinger also ruled Tuesday that the assets of foreclosure attorney Philip Kramer, the direct marketing firm Pate, Marier and Associates and other defendants would remain frozen while a receiver retains stewardship over their businesses.

Orders against another lawyer accused in the civil suit filed in August, Mitchell Stein, are being considered in a separate hearing later this month. Stein filed a series of lawsuits this week in California, Florida and New York accusing California Attorney General Kamala Harris of filing the complaint against him at Bank of America's behest.

Prosecutors accuse Kramer, Stein, Pate, Marier and Associates and more than a dozen other individuals and businesses of ensnaring borrowers in a scheme that falsely promised a cut of future legal settlements in lawsuits alleging malfeasance by their banks.

The lawyers and their associates sent mailers that looked like official class-action lawsuit notifications and stated that their recipients could cut their mortgage to as little as 70 percent of their value, prevent foreclosure and get $75,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit.

They directed people to phone supposed law offices that were actually call centers staffed by operators with no legal expertise, the suit said.

"The people of California are better off now that these illegal and fraudulent activities have been halted by the court," Harris spokesman Shum Preston said of Meisinger's ruling.

Attorney Mark Geragos, who is representing Kramer, said he planned to appeal the ruling, which he claimed had exceeded Meisinger's authority.

Pate, Marier and Associates did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The defendants are accused in the lawsuit of making false representations and three counts of unfair competition. Prosecutors are seeking a permanent injunction stopping the defendants from continuing with the business in addition to unspecified monetary damages.

Defendants in the complaint are all based in California, but Florida prosecutors are working with California authorities to look into bank lawsuits involving Tallahassee, Fla.-based lawyer and lobbyist David Ramba, Florida attorney general's spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis said in a statement.

Florida bar association officials previously confirmed that they were looking into allegations of rule violations concerning Ramba's work with Kramer to recruit struggling homeowners to join lawsuits against banks.

Ramba said that his name had been used by marketers seeking plaintiffs to join lawsuits without his knowledge or permission.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the case, which portrays Kramer and Stein as having exploited an existing lawsuit known as Ronald v. Bank of America filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in March 2009.

Stein was one of the lawyers who first filed that case, which alleged on behalf of a few dozen clients that the bank committed mortgage-related improprieties.

Stein and his co-counsel in the case later split the plaintiffs into two groups after the other attorneys expressed concern over Stein's use of marketing agencies to recruit clients and other matters. Since then, Stein has added hundreds of borrowers to his group.

Stein, in his lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of hundreds of clients in the three states, accuses prosecutors of doing Bank of America's bidding by cracking down on his practice because he was so effective in his case against the lender.

"Mitchell Stein and his legal associates ... are Bank of America's biggest nightmare," he said in the suit, which lists Harris and her agency and the state bar among its defendants. "And while Defendant Harris claims to be on the side of the California homeowner, she is effectively trying to provide Bank of America ... with a `get out of jail free card' by silencing attorney Stein."

Stein's suit, which alleges the violation of his clients' civil rights, also denies that he recruited plaintiffs through direct mailings, claiming that many of them were referrals from the office of Sen. Diane Feinstein and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Feinstein spokesman Brian Weiss said the senator did not refer any clients to Stein.

"Sen. Feinstein doesn't know anything about this case," he said.

Messages left seeking comment from Homeland Security were not returned.

Preston called Stein's suit frivolous.

"We respectfully decline to address the very strange claims made in this lawsuit," he said. "It is, sadly, another example of what we uncovered during our investigations: false promises designed to lure already distressed homeowners into paying money to lawyers who refuse to properly represent them."

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