Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Nevada law spurs big drop in homes entering foreclosure

New Nevada law spurs big drop in homes entering foreclosure

New Nevada law spurs big drop in homes entering foreclosure

New Nevada law spurs big drop in homes entering foreclosure


Occupy Homes from NY to LA!

Occupy Wall Street is now on the move. In several US cities across America, from NY to LA and many cities in between (Philadelphia, Albany, Atlanta and Rochester, New York) the “Occupiers” have taken on a new tactic - occupy homes. This effort seeks to bring attention to the foreclosure crisis and the economic and financial inequalities that plague many communities. The activists say they are offering space to the homeless people and giving seminars in “foreclosure defense”. Many of the local people in these affected communities applauded and welcomed the occupiers because of the ability to bring attention to the foreclosure crisis. Some families at the protest have already been foreclosed on and since there houses remain vacant want to take back the homes. For others their goals are much larger, they seek a national moratorium of the nations foreclosures. But whatever the outcome the occupy homes movement is a great start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Steven J. Baum, foreclosure firm is closing

Reprinted for NY Law Journal:

New York's largest foreclosure firm, Steven J. Baum P.C., yesterday announced "mass layoffs," signalling that the firm is closing its doors. The move followed recent decisions by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to stop referring new cases to the embattled firm.

"Disrupting the livelihoods of so many dedicated and hardworking people is extremely painful, but the loss of so much business left us no choice but to file these notices," Steven J. Baum said in a statement, referring to Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications (WARN) filed with local municipalities, the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board and the New York State Department of Labor.

Firm employees were notified of the layoffs at the same time the WARN filings were made.

The firm has 67 part- and full-time employees at its headquarters in Amherst, near Buffalo, and 22 on Long Island.r a business with 50 to 99 employees, the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications Act mandates notification of layoffs constituting at least 33 percent of the staff. The act provides a 90-day notice period.

"We will fulfill all of our obligations under WARN and during this process we will also fulfill our remaining work on behalf of our clients," Mr. Baum said in the statement. When reached for comment yesterday, he declined to elaborate.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae recently dropped the Baum firm from their attorney networks but spokesmen for the government-sponsored enterprises declined to discuss the reasons behind those decisions (NYLJ, Nov. 16).

Last month, however, the firm came under fire after photos from a 2010 Halloween party where employees donned costumes spoofing the homeless surfaced in a New York Times column by Joseph Nocera.

And last month the Southern District U.S. Attorney's Office announced that the Baum firm would pay a $2 million fine owing to "inadvertent errors" in court filings that were due to "human error" (NYLJ, Oct. 7).

The firm's business has plummeted in the last year under the impact of investigations and new state regulations that have affected all lenders and their attorneys.

According to state figures, in 2010, the firm was listed as representing the plaintiff in 17,376 foreclosure actions of 46,824 statewide. As of Monday, the firm was listed in just 2,895 foreclosures. Statewide foreclosures filings year to date were 13,704.

Mr. Nocera reported in a column Saturday that he had received an e-mail from Mr. Baum saying, "Mr. Nocera—You have destroyed everything and everyone related to Steven J. Baum PC. It took 40 years to build this firm and three weeks to tear it down."

Robbie Vaughn of Vaughn & Weber in Mineola, a foreclosure defense firm, said that while it is unfortunate to see any firm go out of business, he is hopeful the Baum firm's closure would ensure better practices among firms that continued to represent lenders in foreclosures.

"Unfortunately, I guess they brought it on themselves," Mr. Vaughn said of the Baum firm. "My hope is some good would come out of it."

He added that in the past several months the Baum firm had improved its handling of cases.

"It was nice to actually have them call you back or send you an e-mail," he said, later adding, "Previously, I couldn't get through to anyone."
Ivan E. Young of the Young Law Group in Bohemia exclusively handles foreclosure defense, with about one-third of his approximately 200 cases handled by the Baum firm for the plaintiff lender.

Mr. Young expected another firm would eventually become the leader in lender representation.

"It's only a matter of time before another firm steps up and becomes a foreclosure mill," he said, adding "the most immediate impact is the logjam on all these cases Baum has been representing."

Mr. Young said when defending against actions represented by the Baum firm he would raise defenses including perceived conflicts of interest with staff attorneys signing off on MERS assignments and poor cooperation from Baum attorneys.

"I think that when you play loose for an extended period of time, it tends to catch up with you," he said.

The Baum firm has been called a "foreclosure mill" by critics, a term Mr. Baum told the Law Journal earlier this year he found "offensive."

Mr. Baum observed in a February 2011 profile that foreclosure attorneys are "an easy target for criticism."

"[W]e don't see firms being called 'securitization mills' for the vast number of mortgage securitization work they did," he said. "If what we did was easy, there would be hundreds of firms doing it, yet there are about a dozen who actually practice in the area" (NYLJ, Feb. 17).

The firm was started in 1972 by Mr. Baum's father, Marvin, who died in 1999. Marvin Baum was a well-known real estate attorney, once serving on the Erie County Bar Association's board of directors and as chair of the real property law section of the New York State Bar Association

Steven, now 50, joined his father at the firm in 1986 after graduating from the University at Buffalo Law School. Mr. Baum is a past co-chair of the foreclosure and workout committee of the New York State Bar Association and a member-at-large in the state bar's real property law section's executive committee.

A spokesperson for Ally Financial, a Baum client, declined to comment but confirmed the bank began suspending its use of the firm in September. Bank of America told Bloomberg last week that it ended its relationship with the firm prior to Fannie and Freddie dropping it from the list. Spokespeople for Citigroup and Chase, also Baum clients, declined to comment.

Arthur A. Russ Jr., president of the Erie County Bar Association, called the firm's closure and resulting loss of jobs "extremely unfortunate," noting that the firm was a "very highly respected law firm in Western New York."

Mr. Baum himself has been a longtime member of the Erie County Bar and an active member in its real estate committee.

Mr. Baum "doesn't make the decision to foreclose on any property. I just think it's unfortunate these 90 people will be out of work," said Mr. Russ, of Phillips Lytle in Buffalo.

Bruce Bergman of Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Peddy & Fenchel, a Garden City firm that also represents lenders in foreclosures, said, "My concern is for the many dedicated lawyers and other staff who suddenly now will find themselves without a job. Despite the firm's difficulties, there were nonetheless many professional employees who worked very hard and for them now to have to look for a job in a difficult employment climate is most unfortunate"

Rebecca Case-Grammatico, supervising attorney for the foreclosure prevention unit in the Empire Justice Center's Rochester office, said the announcement did not surprise her entirely.

"It's a shame that things have fallen apart the way they have for him," she said. "I'm sorry for the employees. At same time, I'm not shocked."

Ms. Case-Grammatico said that judging from the recent Times column she thought Mr. Baum viewed the Halloween party photos as the reason for the closure. But she disagreed. For a "number of years," she said, "advocates across the state have been frustrated with some of Baum's practices," noting that the firm represented the plaintiff in about half of her unit's 80 open cases. The photos, she added, were "the straw that broke the camel's back, but [Mr. Baum] had a lot of baggage before this. This was a couple years in the making."

Earlier this year, MFY Legal Services filed a putative class action against the firm for its alleged failure to file documents triggering mandated settlement conferences (NYLJ, Aug. 10). Adam H. Cohen, senior staff attorney with MFY, said his group will continue to litigate the case. In fact, on Friday, MFY amended its suit to name Mr. Baum as a defendant.

"We just believe he is equally responsible for the conduct of his law firm," Mr. Cohen said.

Given the number of cases handled by the Baum firm, Mr. Cohen said he anticipates confusion from borrowers and their attorneys if lenders transfer Baum cases to other firms.

"That's the major thing: How will these other firms be dealing with all of the cases that outstretch their capacity, the way it stands now," he said.

The New York State Attorney General's Office is investigating the Baum firm, according to media reports.

Following news of the Baum firm's closure, a spokeswoman for the attorney general said, "While we cannot comment on ongoing investigations, Attorney General [Eric] Schneiderman will continue to bring accountability to the firms responsible for the mortgage crisis, and put an end to the abusive foreclosure practices that have devastated families across the state."

@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at