False signatures cloud Maryland foreclosure cases

Two attorneys acknowledge that their affidavits were not signed by them; state removes notaries from positions

October 12, 2010|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

Lawyers at two Maryland firms handling foreclosures filed court documents without actually signing the papers themselves, a development that is calling into question the validity of at least some of the home foreclosure cases in the state.

The two attorneys, one based in Hunt Valley and the other in Bethesda, have filed more than 20,000 foreclosure cases in Maryland courts since 2008.

The lawyers have acknowledged that in documents filed in court for some of their foreclosure cases their names were signed by others at their behest. The documents, known as affidavits, are the written equivalent of court testimony. Maryland law requires that affidavits be signed by the person whose name they bear, according to the state attorney general's office.

The lawyers have submitted "corrective affidavits" in counties across the state in recent months in an effort to remedy the signature problem. The courts could not immediately say how many corrective affidavits have been filed, but Mike Morin, an Annapolis attorney who represents homeowners, said there have been hundreds.

"We believe the issue extends to thousands of cases," said Morin, who has defended borrowers with other attorneys.

Meanwhile, the Maryland secretary of state between August and this month removed from office six notaries employed at the firms for violations related to improperly prepared documents. The agency is investigating four more. Notaries must verify that the person signing a document is who he says he is.

The signature issue is separate from "robo-signing," in which mortgage officials sign foreclosure documents in bulk without verifying the details. That practice has prompted a growing number of companies to halt foreclosure sales in many states.

In the corrective affidavits filed by Jacob Geesing, of Bierman, Geesing, Ward & Wood in Bethesda, and Thomas P. Dore, with Hunt Valley-based Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore, both lawyers said the information in the original documents was accurate — except for the signatures.

'Signed at my direction'

"The aforesaid papers were prepared under my supervision and signed at my direction," Geesing wrote in the corrective affidavits to explain the original signatures, a phrase echoed in Dore's filings. "The process was implemented through an inappropriate view that it would be sufficient."

A document examiner hired by Jerry Solomon, an attorney who represents Maryland and Florida homeowners facing foreclosure, said that Geesing's name had been signed by multiple people. The Baltimore Sun, reviewing court documents, found Geesing signatures ranging from a scrawl to neat cursive script. The "D" that constitutes Dore's signature varied as well, the review found.

Dore did not respond to telephone messages and letters left at his office and home during the last week seeking comment. Another firm principal, Mark S. Devan, declined to comment.

Geesing said in an interview that the "delegated signing authority" was not robo-signing and has not happened since 2009. "We voluntarily took corrective action," he said, adding that his office "became aware" of the problem about a year ago. "We've had a brand-new procedure since last year, so this is an old issue in our firm, and we don't believe there are any issues with current foreclosures. I'm confident there are not."

Geesing said he could not say how many cases he filed that had documents signed by someone other than himself. He would not elaborate on decisions that led to others' signing documents in his stead. The information in the documents, he reiterated in a later, e-mail interview, "was true and accurate in substance to the best of our knowledge.

"No borrower has alleged otherwise and, certainly, no court has held otherwise," Geesing wrote in the e-mail.

But in a letter sent Saturday to the chief judge of Maryland's Court of Appeals, Gov. Martin O'Malley and every member of Maryland's mostly Democratic congressional delegation referred to corrective affidavits as an example of why they wanted the courts to halt foreclosures for at least 60 days.

"These developments provide clear indication that the same problems with robo-signed affidavits and other flawed documentation acknowledged in other states are also occurring in Maryland," they wrote, adding later, "Because we can no longer have confidence in the process by which the documentation justifying a foreclosure is produced, the fundamental fairness of the entire foreclosure process is now in serious doubt."

In response to the officials' letter, the Court of Appeals has launched a review to determine if it has the authority to halt foreclosures, a spokeswoman for the state court system said Tuesday. The chief judge, Robert M. Bell, declined to comment about the effect that improperly signed affidavits could have on the foreclosure cases involved.

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