Posted 7 years ago on June 26, 2014, 1:35 a.m. EST by LeoYoh
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Backing Banks Over Borrowers, California Judges Often Big Stakeholders in Same Banks
Wednesday, 25 June 2014 09:59
By Darwin BondGraham, Truthout | News Analysis
Sue your bank in California over a wrongful foreclosure, and the best you're likely to get - if you have ironclad evidence that it broke the law - is a loan modification. That is, a "win" for the borrower usually means the bank keeps another customer and collects interest payments that are thousands of basis points above the level at which the bank is able to borrow from the Fed. Very often, however, homeowner lawsuits against the banks end in dismissal. In the parlance of the courts, the defendant's demurrer is sustained. Judges in California's superior courts often rule in favor of the banks, and the few lawsuits that filter up to the appeals courts and Supreme Court don't fare any better.
Why do the banks keep winning in court against borrowers alleging wrongful foreclosure, fraud and other abuses? Many borrowers and their lawyers say there's a judicial bias favoring the banks over homeowners, and that this bias is revealed by the economic position of the judges themselves. Most California judges are wealthy, and many of them hold significant investments in financial corporations and bonds, oftentimes even in the very same banks and mortgage lenders that have been sued by thousands of Californians over alleged fraud, deception and wrongful foreclosure.
Case in point: Baldwin v. Bank of America, a borrower lawsuit alleging wrongful foreclosure that battled all the way to the steps of California's Supreme Court. In 2007, Marvin Baldwin borrowed half a million dollars from J&R Lending to purchase a small three-unit apartment building in Long Beach, California. It was the height of the real estate bubble. Things quickly fell apart, and Baldwin ran into financial troubles.
In 2009, Bank of America, which by this point had acquired Baldwin's loan, notified him that he qualified for a federally sponsored HomeSaver Forbearance Program, a temporary bridge toward a permanent loan modification. Baldwin assumed that this was how the taxpayer-funded bank bailouts were translating into assistance for small landlords, so he cooperated with Bank of America and made payments under the program. But late in 2010, Bank of America recorded a notice of default against Baldwin's loan. Things looked dire.
Then in October, two months after filing the notice of default, Bank of America spun around again and appeared to be offering Baldwin a rescue plan. Bank of America announced a national moratorium on foreclosures due to the bank's acknowledgement of "irregularities" in its own internal processes. But then Bank of America reversed course yet again. In spite of announcing a moratorium on foreclosures - a moratorium stemming from the robo-signing scandal in which it was revealed Bank of America was routinely breaking the law - Marvin Baldwin's home was suddenly sold at auction on December 8, 2010.
He filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and fraud and sought injunctive relief to save his property. Baldwin alleged in his lawsuit that Bank of America violated California's Unfair Competition Law, which states, among other things, that a company cannot act in ways that would be likely to deceive a reasonable customer. The foreclosure "moratorium" Bank of America announced was one such deceptive practice because the bank lulled its borrowers into inaction, but then in fact continued to foreclose on properties and sell them, argued Baldwin and his lawyer. A year later, a trial court in Los Angeles sided with Bank of America, ruling the foreclosure and auction were perfectly legal, and that the bank's actions weren't deceptive.
Marvin Baldwin and his lawyer Lenore Albert appealed and argued their case before California's 2nd District Appellate Court. They lost again. The court's reasoning waded deep into gray areas, interpreting California's business laws, fraud laws, and real estate laws liberally in the Bank of America's favor.