While Florida courts struggle to deal with a mountain of foreclosure cases and some possibly erroneous paperwork, the Florida Attorney General’s Office has launched a formal investigation into whether some law firms have submitted deliberately fabricated documents.
Attorney General Bill McCollum on August 10 announced that subpoenas had been issued to The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A., Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, and the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A.
The subpoenas sought documents relating to 12 foreclosure cases handled by the Stern firm, and three each for the other two firms.
“Because many mortgages have been bought and sold by different institutions multiple times, key paperwork involved in the process to obtain foreclosure judgments is often missing,” the AG said in a press release. “On numerous occasions, allegedly fabricated documents have been presented to the courts in foreclosure actions to obtain final judgments against homeowners. Thousands of final judgments of foreclosures against Florida homeowners may have been the result of the allegedly improper actions of the law firms under investigation.
“The Attorney General’s Office is also investigating whether the law firms have created affiliated companies outside the United States where the allegedly false documents are being prepared and then submitted to the law firms for use.”
According to news stories, problems have included backdated documents done with notary stamps that didn’t exist at the time the document was supposedly created.
Jeffery Tew, of Tew Cardenas in Miami and who is representing the Stern law firm in the AG’s action, said a motion has been filed to limit the scope of what he called an overly broad subpoena, but otherwise the firm is cooperating.
“We are fully cooperating, and we supplied him with all the relevant documents going back over three years that he asked for,” Tew said. “David Stern’s law firm tries its hardest to comply with all applicable rules and regulations and doesn’t intentionally file any faulty paperwork.”
He estimated that Stern’s firm has filed around 100,000 foreclosure actions in the past two or three years. Given that volume and the number of foreclosure cases clogging Florida’s courts, some mistakes are inevitable, he said.
“I think the Attorney General overreacted in his press release by implying there was intentional wrongdoing or mortgages were being fabricated,” Tew said. “I don’t know of any cases where mortgages were made up of whole cloth.”
Former Bar President Gerald Richman, who represents the Shapiro & Fishman firm, said, “There is no basis to believe the Shapiro and Fishman have been involved in any impropriety or deliberate falsification whatsoever. We are aggressively defending that.”
He added that a lot of complaints have come from law firms representing homeowners who are trying to delay inevitable foreclosures. “There are going to be mistakes made, with that type of volume, you’ve never going to have it perfect,” Richman said.
The Watson firm did not return calls from the Bar News.