More than five dozen Georgia judges have stepped down from the bench in disgrace since the state’s judicial watchdog agency began aggressively policing ethical conduct eight years ago.
More lately, however, the jurists aren’t just leaving the court in disgrace. Some are leaving in handcuffs.
Earlier this month, former North Georgia magistrate Bryant Cochran was sentenced to five years in prison by a federal judge who said Cochran had destroyed the public’s faith in the judiciary. In June, a one-time influential chief judge from Brunswick was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury. And a specially appointed district attorney is now considering similar charges against a former DeKalb judge.
These criminal prosecutions were brought after the state Judicial Qualifications Commission launched investigations of the judges. Instead of being allowed to step down from the bench and return to a law practice, these judges are hiring criminal defense lawyers.
“I don’t remember seeing anything like this — so many judges facing criminal prosecution,” said Norman Fletcher, former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. “I do think it puts a black cloud over the judiciary.”
Cobb County State Court Judge Glover Retired, crooked as they come.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Becker forced off the bench, one of the most corrupt.
Georgia Supreme Court Barnes, allows and participates in the corruption.
DeKalb County Probate Court Judge Jeryl Debra Rosh, was corrupt when she was a clerk, ruling in place of Judge Marion Guess, with his knowledge, and even more corrupt as Probate Judge, retired early.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while speaking to the press in New York City, after his five-state super Tuesday win. April 27 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while speaking to the press in New York City, after his five-state super Tuesday win. April 27 2016.
Presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump’s list for potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees is heavy on federal appellate judges and former clerks for conservative justices and light on big names in politics and private practice.
Trump’s list of 11 potential nominees doesn’t include several conservative judges who have been on Supreme Court watch lists in the past, including U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Janice Rogers Brown, Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton and Fifth Circuit Judge Priscilla Owen.
Trump’s list, released Wednesday, doesn’t include any nonjudges. Other names floated in the past as possible nominees for a future Republican president included former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, now a partner at Bancroft, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Also not on the list: Trump’s sister, Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, although that was no surprise. Trump has praised his sister as “brilliant,” but said he wouldn’t consider nominating her to the Supreme Court because of the conflict of interest. He’s also said that the two share “different views.”
Related: Texas’ Most Prolific Judicial Tweeter Makes Trump’s Shortlist
Trump’s list drew praise and criticism depending on where the commentator sits on the political spectrum.
“The [Supreme] Court needs more justices who will base their decisions on the law, not politics, even under pressure, especially since the next president is likely to determine the direction of the court for a generation,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said.
“It is also heartening to see so many Midwesterners and state court judges on the list—they would bring a valuable perspective to the bench, particularly since they have already served on a court of last resort in their own states,” she added.
Miranda Blue of People for the American Way noted: “It looks like Trump has, true to his promise, picked potential justices who would advance the conservative efforts to skew the federal courts far to the right.”
Senate Judiciary chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in statement, “Mr. Trump has laid out an impressive list of highly qualified jurists, including Judge Colloton from Iowa, who understand and respect the fundamental principle that the role of the courts is limited and subject to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
So who made the list?
Judge Steven Colloton, 53, joined the Eighth Circuit in 2003. Colloton is a former clerk to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He was appointed by President George W. Bush. He previously served with independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
Before joining the appellate court, Colloton was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.
Colorado Supreme Court justice Allison Eid is a former Clarence Thomas clerk. She took her seat on the state high court in 2006, leaving her position on the faculty of the University of Colorado Law School, where she taught constitutional law, legislation, the law of politics, first-year torts and advanced torts.
Before teaching, she also practiced commercial and appellate litigation in the Denver office of Arnold & Porter.
Judge Thomas Hardiman, 50, who joined the Third Circuit in 2007 just 3 1/2 years after taking his seat as a district court judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Hardiman’s ruling that a jail policy of strip searching all arrestees does not violate the Fourth Amendment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. In 2013, he dissented from his court’s decision upholding under the Second Amendment New Jersey’s law requiring applicants for licenses to carry handguns in public to show “justifiable need.”
“Those who drafted and ratified the Second Amendment were undoubtedly aware that the right they were establishing carried a risk of misuse, and States have considerable latitude to regulate the exercise of the right in ways that will minimize that risk,” he wrote in Drake v. Filko. “But States may not seek to reduce the danger by curtailing the right itself.”
Related: Third Circuit Judge Among Trump’s Supreme Court Picks
And he also dissented in a 2013 decision holding that a public school violated the First Amendment by banning students from wearing bracelets inscribed with “I [love] boobies” sold by a breast cancer awareness group.
Judge Raymond Gruender, 52, became U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri in 2001 and served in that position until his confirmation to the Eighth Circuit in 2004.
Gruender has written opinions holding that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 did not give female employees the right to insurance coverage for contraceptives used solely to prevent pregnancy.
He dissented from a panel ruling that upheld an injunction striking down a South Dakota law requiring abortion providers to inform patients that an “abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” When the case was heard en banc, Gruender, writing for the full court, upheld the law as constitutional on its face.
Judge Raymond Kethledge, 49, sits on the Sixth Circuit and is a former clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy. He joined the appellate court in 2008 after practicing law as a corporate attorney and former counsel to Ford Motor Co.
Trump’s list also names a number of state supreme court judges.
Joan Larsen was named to the Michigan Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Snyder in September 2015. Larsen is a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She worked in the George W. Bush Department of Justice in 2002-2003 and then joined the University of Michigan School of Law as an adjunct professor and special counsel to the dean.
When appointed to the state court, Larsen said she would be a “strict constructionist,” explaining, “I believe in enforcing the laws as written by the Legislature and signed by the governor. I don’t think judges are a policy-making branch of the government.”
In March, at a memorial for Scalia, Larsen recalled Scalia as a “fundamentally happy man” who would sing in his chambers and whistle in the corridors of the court. Larsen remembered one time when she made a mistake citing Webster’s Third New International Dictionary in a draft opinion.
Scalia, a critic of that tome, called her out. Larsen said she had used that edition because it was in the justice’s front office. Scalia said the dictionary had been put there as a “trap laid for the unwary.”
Trump also named a judge with a well-known pedigree in Washington legal circles. Thomas Rex Lee, son of former Solicitor General Rex Lee, joined the Utah Supreme Court in July 2010.
Lee is a former Clarence Thomas clerk who specialized in trademark litigation when in private practice. He served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Division of the U.S. Justice Department from 2004 to 2005.
Lee has been called a pioneer in “corpus linguistics” to determine ordinary meaning and has applied that in an opinion. He also has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, representing Utah in Utah v. Evans, a 2002 challenge by the state to the Census Bureau’s use of “hot-deck” imputation, a statistical method.
Judge William Pryor of Alabama joined the Eleventh Circuit in 2004 despite considerable controversy over his nomination. He was criticized by Senate Democrats in the 108th Congress who called him an extremist for such statements as referring to the Supreme Court as “nine octogenarian lawyers” and saying that Roe v. Wade was the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”
President George W. Bush installed Pryor using a recess appointment to bypass the regular Senate confirmation process. He received Senate confirmation on May 23, 2005, after Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, announced an agreement between seven Republican and seven Democratic U.S. senators, the so-called Gang of 14, to ensure an up-or-down vote on Pryor and other nominees.
On the bench, Pryor specially concurred in an unanimous panel decision enjoining the secretary of Health and Human Services from enforcing the contraception insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act against Catholic television network EWTN. That case was one of the petitions pending in the high court until the justices ruling Monday in Zubik v. Burwell.
In 2009, Pryor led a unanimous panel upholding Georgia’s photo ID law as a voting requirement.
Another former Clarence Thomas clerk on the list is Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice David Stras, 41. Stras joined that court in 2010. He taught at the University of Minnesota Law School for six years prior to his appointment.
Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, 58, of Wisconsin, is well-known in conservative circles and has been called by some liberal groups as the most conservative judge on Trump’s list. She is a former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Her more recent opinions include supporting a voter ID law and expanding the ability of religious objectors to limit their employees’ access to contraceptive insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. She also wrote an opinion in 2011 holding that the Second Amendment prohibited Chicago’s ban on firing ranges
Sykes spoke about her clerk-hiring practices at a conference in Milwaukee in 2014. “I don’t want to be fighting with someone all year,” Sykes said about hiring a clerk whose views are different than hers. “I don’t only hire Federalist Society members” as clerks, she said, but there has to be “some general philosophical fit.”
Another state supreme court justice is well-known to the Twitter community and someone who has actually criticized Donald Trump. Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, 49, worked on the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign and transition team. In the White House, Willett served as special assistant to the president and director of law and policy for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
In 2003, Willett returned to Texas to become state deputy attorney general for legal counsel in the office of newly elected Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, where he served until he was appointed to the state high civil court in 2005.
Circuit judges’ financial disclosure forms
We’ve compiled below some of the recent financial disclosure forms of judges on Trump’s shortlist:
Steven Colloton of Iowa: 2014 and 2015
Raymond Gruender of Missouri: 2014 and 2015
Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania: 2014 and 2015
Raymond Kethledge of Michigan: 2014 and 2015
William Pryor of Alabama: 2014 and 2015
Diane Sykes of Wisconsin: 2014 and 2015
Zoe Tillman contributed to this report.
Corroborating what I have been saying for years on this blog, the Supreme Court of the state of California is reasserting its position that if entity ABC wants to collect on a debt in California, then that particular entity must own the debt. This is basic common sense and simply follows article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. If a court were to adopt the position of the banks, then a new industry would be born, to wit: spying on people to determine whether or not they are behind on any payment to anyone and then beating the real creditor to court, filing a complaint and getting a judgment without the real creditor even knowing about it. The Supreme Court of the state of California obviously understands this.
This is not really complicated although the words used are complicated. If you find out that your neighbor is behind in payments on their credit cards, it is obvious that you can serve your neighbor and collect. You don’t own the debt because you never loaned any money and because you never purchased the debt. If you are allowed to sue and collect on the credit card debt, you and the court would be committing a fraud on the actual creditor. This is why it is absurd for lawyers or judges to say “what difference does it make who they are the debt to? They stopped making payments and they are clearly in default.” Any lawyer or judge makes that statement is wrong. It lacks the foundation of the factual determinations required to establish the existence of the debt, the current balance of the debt after deductions for all payments received from all parties on this account, and the ownership of the debt.
In the first year of law school, we learned that the note is not the debt. The note is evidence of the debt and the terms of repayment but it is not a substitute for the actual transaction documents. Those transaction documents would have to include proof of transfer of consideration, which in this case would mean wire transfer receipts and wire transfer instructions. The banks don’t want to show the court this because it will show that the originator in most cases never made any loan at all and was merely serving as a sham nominee for an undisclosed lender. The banks are attempting to use this confusion to make themselves real parties in interest when in fact they were never more than intermediaries. And as intermediaries that misused their positions of trust to misrepresent and create fraudulent “mortgage bond” transactions with investors that led to fraudulent loans being made to borrowers.
The banks diverted or stole money from investors on several different levels through multiple channels of conduit sham entities that they called “bankruptcy remote vehicles.” The argument of “too big to fail” is now being rejected by the courts. That is a policy argument for the legislative branch of government. While the bank succeeded in scaring the executive and legislative branches into believing the risk of “too big to fail” most of the people in the legislative and executive branches of government on the federal and state level no longer subscribe to this myth.
There are dozens of other courts on the trial and appellate level across the country that are also grasping this issue. The position of the banks, which is been rejected by Congress and the state legislatures for good reason, would mean the end of negotiable paper. The banks are desperate because they know they are not the owner of the debt, they are not the creditor, they have no authority to represent the creditor, and their actions are contrary to the interests of the creditor. They are pushing millions of homeowners into foreclosure, or luring them into an apparent default and foreclosure with false promises of modification and settlement.
The reason is simple. Without a foreclosure sale at auction, the banks are exposed to an enormous liability for all the money they collected on the alleged defaulted loans. The amount of the liability is vastly in excess of the entire principal of the loans, which is why I say that the major banks are publishing financial statements that are based on fictitious assets and fictitious income. Nobody can ignore the fact that the broker-dealers (investment banks) are getting sued by investors, insurers, counterparties on credit default swaps, government agencies who have already paid for alleged “losses”, and government agencies that have paid on guarantees for mortgages that did not conform to the required industry-standard underwriting practice.
This latest decision in which the Glaski court, at the request of the banks, revisited its prior decision and then reaffirmed it as a law of the land in the state of California, is evidence that the banks are turning the corner in favor of the real creditors and the real debtors. The recusal by two judges on the California Supreme Court is interesting but at this point there are no conclusions that can be drawn from that.
This opens the door in the state of California for people to regain title to their property or damages for the loss of title. It also serves to open the door to discovery of the actual money trail in order to trace real transactions as opposed to fictitious ones based upon fabricated documentation which often contain forgery, backdating, and are signed by people without authority or people claiming authority through a fictitious power of attorney.
Residential real estate firm Morris Hardwick Schneider alleges that founder Nathan Hardwick IV embezzled more than $30 million from the firm and its affiliated title company, LandCastle Title.
In a suit filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, the firm claims Hardwick used the money to pay for casino expenses, private jet rides, a luxury Buckhead condo and real estate investments.
The two firms allege in the complaint that Hardwick raided the trust and escrow accounts that the firms maintain for residential mortgage closings and then created false bank statements and altered accounting records to hide the deficits.
Hardwick was listed as MHS’s managing partner and as the board chairman and CEO for LandCastle Title in a biography that has been deleted from MHS’s website.
A nanny who answered the phone at Hardwick’s residence at the St. Regis in Buckhead said he was not at home.
LandCastle’s lawyer, W. Reese Willis III of Fidelity National Law Group, declined to comment on active litigation. “The complaint speaks for itself,” he said.
Art Morris, another founding partner of MHS, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did MHS’s lawyer, Jeffrey Schneider of Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco.
Fidelity National Title Group bought a 70 percent interest in LandCastle Title, one of its agents, after the escrow account losses were discovered, according to a letter Fidelity National posted Monday to MHS and LandCastles’ joint website.
A “significant shortage” in the accounts of MHS and LandCastle prompted the acquisition and Fidelity National is funding the shortages in return for the ownership interest in LandCastle, according to the letter. Fidelity National Title Group is owned by Fidelity National Financial.
Hardwick has resigned from MHS and Mark Wittstadt is now the managing partner, according to the letter, which was signed by Wittstadt and David Baum, the Southeast regional manager for Fidelity National Title Group who is now the president of LandCastle Title.
According to the suit, Hardwick spent $4 million from MHS’s trust accounts in wire transfers to casinos, $1 million to pay private jet companies, and $645,000 to cover losses from failed property investments.
He diverted $6.3 million from MHS’s trust accounts to a personal holding company called Divot, according to the suit, which names Divot as a co-defendant. According to Hardwick’s firm bio, he is an “avid golfer.”
Hardwick partially financed the February 2013 purchase of a $3 million unit at the St. Regis in Buckhead with funds from MHS and LandCastle, according to the suit, and siphoned off another $390,000 in regular payments to himself from MHS’s trust accounts, after draining the operating accounts.
The suit alleges that Hardwick has been embezzling money for at least 18 months, saying the $390,000 in personal payouts from the MHS trust accounts occurred between January 2012 and July 2014.
‘The far-reaching impact on lenders, realtors, law firms and consumers would have been a catastrophe had our parent company, Fidelity National Financial Inc. not stepped in with the capital and resources available to us and a plan to allow them to move forward,” said Fidelity National Title’s state manager Jim Petropoulos in an email to members of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia.
MHS and LandCastle Title are headquartered in Atlanta. They have more than 50 offices in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Ohio.
Nathan Hardwick IV denied Wednesday that he embezzled $30 million from his residential real estate law firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider, and its affiliated title company, Landcastle Title.
In a suit filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, MHS and Landcastle Title claim Hardwick used the money to pay for casino expenses, private jet rides, a luxury Buckhead condo and failed real estate investments.
The firms allege in the complaint that Hardwick raided the trust and escrow accounts that they maintain for residential mortgage closings and then created false bank statements and altered accounting records to hide the deficits.
Hardwick was MHS’s managing partner and the board chairman and CEO for Landcastle Title, according to a biography that has been deleted from MHS’s website.
Hardwick denied the fraud allegations in a statement supplied by his lawyer, Ed Garland.
“Nat is not guilty of any improper, illegal or unethical conduct,” the statement said. “Nat became aware of a problem with the accounting earlier this summer and immediately alerted his partners and initiated a review by outside auditors.”
“The law firm was profitable and Nat believed that all of the money he received was properly distributed to him as his share of the profits of the firm,” the statement said.
Hardwick has resigned from the firm, according to a letter from Fidelity National Title Group that was posted Monday to MHS and Landcastle’s joint website.
Fidelity National Title Group bought a 70 percent interest in Landcastle Title, one of its agents, after the escrow account losses were discovered, the letter said. A “significant shortage” in the accounts of MHS and Landcastle prompted the acquisition and Fidelity National is funding the shortages in return for the ownership interest in Landcastle, it said. Fidelity National Title Group is owned by Fidelity National Financial.
Mark Wittstadt is now MHS’s managing partner, according to the letter, which was signed by Wittstadt and David Baum, the Southeast regional manager for Fidelity National Title Group, who is now the president of Landcastle Title.
“To allow Landcastle to fail would have been a calamity for the company’s employees, consumers, and the real estate industry, as a whole. We are grateful that FNTG made the decision to put the financial resources of the company behind Landcastle Title. Together, we are working to restore confidence in our industry,” said Wittstadt in a statement.
According to the suit, Hardwick spent $4 million from MHS’s trust accounts in wire transfers to casinos, $1 million to pay private jet companies and $645,000 to cover losses from failed property investments.
He diverted $6.3 million from MHS’s trust accounts to a personal holding company called Divot, according to the suit, which names Divot as a codefendant. According to Hardwick’s firm bio, he is an “avid golfer.”
Hardwick partially financed the February 2013 purchase of a $3 million condo at the St. Regis Residences in Buckhead with funds from MHS and Landcastle, according to the suit, and siphoned off another $390,000 in regular payments to himself from MHS’s trust accounts, after draining the operating accounts.
Landcastle’s lawyer is W. Reese Willis III of Fidelity National Law Group. MHS’s lawyer is Jeffrey Schneider of Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco.
The suit alleges that Hardwick has been embezzling money for at least 18 months, saying the $390,000 in personal payouts from the MHS trust accounts occurred between January 2012 and July 2014.
“The far-reaching impact on lenders, realtors, law firms and consumers would have been a catastrophe had our parent company, Fidelity National Financial Inc. not stepped in with the capital and resources available to us and a plan to allow them to move forward,” said Jim Petropoulos, Fidelity National Title’s state manager, in an email to members of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia.
MHS and Landcastle Title are headquartered in Atlanta. In Georgia, 57 lawyers work for MHS, according to the State Bar of Georgia’s directory.
It has 52 offices in 13 states, including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Ohio.
Hardwick, 48, started his own real estate closing firm, Jackson & Hardwick, in 1994. With visions of expanding into a regional or even national firm, he merged his firm in 2005 with the older and more established Atlanta closing firm Morris & Schneider.
Hardwick told the Daily Report at the time that he wanted MHS to be the nation’s biggest real estate firm within a decade. As comanaging partner with Randolph Schneider, he was responsible for marketing and business development.
MHS added foreclosure services in 2008 through a merger with Baltimore-based Wittstadt & Wittstadt. That firm was founded by Mark Wittstadt, now MHS’s managing partner, and his father, Gerard Wittstadt Sr.
Hardwick told the Daily Report in 2008 that MHS’s goal was to become a national one-stop shop for residential real estate. “We can take [property] from closing to refinancing to foreclosure to REO and back to retail again,” he said.
Mary Anne Walser, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty, expressed shock at the fraud allegations against Hardwick. “It’s the talk of every real estate and mortgage office in town,” Walser said. “No one had any inkling that there would ever be a problem.”
She said MHS is one of the major closing firms in the city, with a reputation as a “competent firm that does a good job.”
“All of us had at least one if not multiple closings there,” she said.
Walser spoke highly of Hardwick. “He is a smart guy and he built a great, wonderful firm. I hope there is some other side to the story,” she said.
Even though Fidelity National Title stepped in and covered the shortfall to the escrow accounts, real estate agents and mortgage lenders don’t know whether it is safe to use the firm, Walser said, adding that some mortgage companies have announced they’ve stopped using MHS for closings.
One mortgage lender, Ari Berman, said his company, Silverton Mortgage Specialists, has pulled all its real estate closings from MHS.
“The last thing we want to do is get involved in any kind of fraud or anything that smacks of fraud,” said Berman, who manages Silverton’s Dunwoody office. Silverton has nine Georgia offices and one in South Carolina.
Silverton can’t take the risk of entrusting mortgage money to MHS to hold in escrow during a real estate closing for fear that it could disappear, Berman said. “What if we end up losing those funds?”
“Even though it’s just an allegation, we can’t be associated with it,” he said. “That is a sacrosanct account. It’s other people’s money.”
Even though Hardwick has resigned from MHS and Fidelity National Title has covered the escrow shortfalls, Berman said there is no guarantee that he was the sole actor. “There is too much that is unknown. I’m not willing to take that risk,” he said.
“Fraud is a real hot-button issue in this industry. People lose their life savings because of it,” he said.
The state’s high court has suspended the law license of Buckhead attorney Robert T. Thompson Jr..
The Supreme Court suspended Thompson’s license on Tuesday after he failed to adequately respond to an ongoing investigation by the State Bar of Georgia that could lead to Thompson’s disbarment, according to court records.
It is the second time the bar has sought to suspend Thompson—who for years chaired the bar’s lawyers’ assistance committee—for failure to respond to a complaint. In June, the bar’s investigative panel asked the Supreme Court to suspend Thompson but rescinded its motion when Thompson filed a formal response before the high court could act.
On Wednesday, the bar’s general counsel, Paula Frederick, said she could not discuss details of the two underlying complaints against Thompson, because the bar did not seek Thompson’s suspension based on the merits of those allegations but rather on the lawyer’s failure to respond.
Thompson’s office telephone has been disconnected, and the Daily Report has been unable to reach him by email. Atlanta attorney Ann Shafer, who has been defending Thompson against a theft charge filed by a former client, could not be reached immediately on Wednesday.
In February, a Fulton County magistrate issued a criminal warrant charging Thompson with theft by conversion after Michael Samadi, a former client, accused Thompson of misappropriating $37,400 of Samadi’s funds. At the time, Shafer told the Daily Report that Thompson had repaid Samadi all but $6,400 of the funds, which Thompson claimed he had invested for Samadi at that client’s request, and intended to pay Samadi the remainder with interest once the invested funds could be retrieved without paying a penalty.
This year, Thompson has also twice been sanctioned by federal judges in Atlanta. In May, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn Brill ordered Thompson to pay $13,565 to opposing counsel in a two-year-old foreclosure case because of “untimely and unreasonable requests” that Thompson made to depose the defendants’ witnesses and because he demonstrated “no real effort to work with defense counsel.”
In January, U.S. Senior District Judge Charles Pannell Jr. ordered Thompson to pay nearly $28,000 to opposing counsel in a Fulton County case to reimburse her costs of defending herself in federal court against what the judge said in his order were baseless allegations by Thompson. Pannell described Thompson’s conduct as “reprehensible” in his sanctions order, saying that the Buckhead lawyer had made “serious claims … without a proper basis” against Atlanta attorney Kimberly Childs.
Former real estate employee, Nat Hardwick, allegedly stole millions from firm
The former managing partner of a large Atlanta real estate firm faces a lawsuit that claims he stole millions of dollars from the firm.
The lawsuit, obtained from a source by Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik, was filed Monday at Fulton County Superior court, and alleges that Nat Hardwick, a partner in Morris, Hardwick and Schneider, had taken at least $30 million from firm accounts and from escrow accounts belonging to Landcastle Title.
The lawsuit alleged that Hardwick took “approximately a $1,000,000 to pay providers of private jet services,” and made “$4,000,000 in wire transfers to casinos.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Hardwick covered up his actions until they were discovered by auditors.
In a memo sent to customers Monday, also obtained by Petchenik through a source, firm officials confirmed that Hardwick had resigned his position.
“These activities have negatively affected the future of our company and our customers,” the memo said. “However, Fidelity National Title Group, one of our long-standing and trusted partners, has agreed to step in as 70 percent owner of Landcastle Title.”
The memo said FNTG was funding any shortages to accounts and that they were moving forward with “business as usual.”
An attorney representing Morris, Hardwick and Schneider in the lawsuit told Petchenik they could not comment because it was pending litigation.
Hardwick’s attorney, Ed Garland, sent Petchenik a statement about the allegations:
“A civil lawsuit has been filed against Nat Harwick. Nat is not guilty of any improper, illegal or unethical conduct. Nat became aware of a problem with the accounting earlier this summer and immediately alerted his partners and initiated a review by outside auditors.
“Nat is a founder of the firm Morris Hardwick Schneider and has nurtured its growth for over 23 years. Under Nat’s leadership, the firm grew to 52 offices in thirteen states with eight hundred employees conducting thirty-six thousand yearly transactions involving billions of dollars.
“Anybody who knows Nat knows that he loves the law firm, its employees, the attorneys and the firm’s many loyal clients. He would never knowingly or intentionally take money he was not entitled to or harm the firm or its clients in any way. The firm was profitable, and Nat believed that all of the money he received was properly distributed to him as his share of the profits of the firm.
“The claims made against Nat in this suit are false, and Nat looks forward to clearing his name.”
Garland told Petchenik he was not aware of any law enforcement involvement in investigating the allegations.
Roswell realtor Creed Crutchfield, who has dealt with the firm, told Petchenik allegations such as this makes consumers nervous.
“It just affects everybody in the industry and it makes my job just that much harder,” he said.
Crutchfield said that realty firms are being warned to double-check any closings they had with the firm to ensure everything was handled properly.
“Those real estate agents might want to make sure they check with the companies they closed with to make sure everything is fine for their clients,” he said.
Summary: Following the unprecedented triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after Japan’s 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, a myriad of far reaching questions has arisen…
What’s the current state of the Fukushima nuclear reactors? How much radiation have they already released? What type of health impacts can we expect? Is our seafood supply safe? And what about the other 435 nuclear reactors around the world, 104 in the US alone – 22 of them the same exact design as those that exploded and melted down in Fukushima, are they safe?
Yet these are not easy questions to get answers to. The mainstream media and the internet are full of conflicting viewpoints & information. For example, UN scientists have already claimed that the health impacts of Fukushima will be negligible and statistically insignificant, which is parroted in CNN’s documentary “Pandora’s Promise”. However independent scientists tell a very different story; they project on the order of a million cancers within the next few decades in Japan alone.
So how does such a massive scientific discrepancy occur?
Nuclear Exodus explores the ties that inexorably bind the nuclear power industry to the military industrial complex, and how the lust for nuclear weapons causes governments to push nuclear power on their citizens, while covering up the true health effects of radiation exposure. It delves deep into the legacy & lessons of Chernobyl, nuclear waste management, nuclear terrorism, & solar flares which could potentially trigger hundreds of nuclear meltdowns across the world – threatening life on Earth as we know it.
But can human civilization truly generate the electricity it needs without nuclear power, especially while reducing our energy dependence on fossil fuels? How far have renewable technologies come in 2014 exactly? And if some cataclysmic disaster did threaten the world, would there be anyway to realistically protect life on Earth? Could Mars actually be a feasible back up planet anytime soon?
These questions and more are explored in great depth during Nuclear Exodus: Pandora’s Promise Was A Lie. (This is version 2.2, the most current and up to date version. It’s been tightened up with some important new facts, plus enhanced audio & visuals!)
**This documentary is for educational purposes only. Contains scenes which some viewers may find very disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised. SpaceX, SolarCity, and Tesla Motors were not involved with the production of this documentary. This documentary was produced in accordance with fair use copyright law under US legal code Title 17 Chapter 1 §107 for educational, news, & non-profit purposes in order to promote the progress of science & useful arts.**
Backing Banks Over Borrowers, California Judges Often Big Stakeholders in Same Banks
Wednesday, 25 June 2014 09:59
By Darwin BondGraham, Truthout | News Analysis DARWIN BONDGRAHAM (Darwin BondGraham is a sociologist and journalist who covers political economy. He blogs at http://darwinbondgraham.blogspot.com and for washingtonspectator.org.)
Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today!
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. Broad Pattern of Bias Seen Plaintiffs’ attorneys see a broad pattern in California in which the judiciary has routinely sided with the banks, even when the law could be interpreted to prevent or reverse a foreclosure. “They don’t want to be the judge that allows 40 million mortgages to go back to the borrowers,” said Patricia Rodriguez, a lawyer who has filed homeowner lawsuits against banks and mortgage servicers in multiple California superior courts. “They don’t want to possibly set a precedent.” A single ruling against Bank of America that reverses a foreclosure sale because the bank didn’t follow the letter of the law, for example, could spill over into thousands of other cases and potentially impact the profitability of the entire banking and loan servicing industry in Calfiornia, said Rodriguez. “It was very clear that there is one form of justice for the small borrower and another form of justice for the moneyed interests,” said Donald Adams, a retired California attorney. “It pains me to say that, but having seen the real estate debacle and the judiciary’s protection of these fraudulent practices, I have reluctantly come to that conclusion.” As to why the banks so often come out winners, some point to the economic interests of the judges. The average superior court judge in California is paid a salary of about $150,000, but many of the judges are appointed to the bench after years of lucrative private practice where they earned many times this amount of money. Most judges worked as lawyers at large law firms and boutique offices whose clients include major corporations, real estate companies, banks, and others that can pay top dollar. By the time they become judges, most of these lawyers have amassed considerable financial wealth, and like other members of the top 1% of income earners and wealth holders, most judges invest their fortunes in stocks and bonds. And after years of working for corporate clients, many judges have also been steeped in legal and social philosophies that favor the interests of the wealthy above those of consumers and debtors. It’s impossible to really know why California’s judges have decided so many mortgage fraud and wrongful foreclosure cases in favor of the banks. Certainly it’s a mix of factors, including ideology, but also the existing structure of the legal system that favors wealthy defendants like the banks over isolated and indebted plaintiffs; the banks can afford the best lawyers to represent them, and the biggest banks spend several billion each year lobbying the legislatures of all 50 states and the federal government to shape laws and regulations in their favor. It’s an uneven playing field from the very start. But one possible way to gauge the possibility of bias in the legal system is to look at the economic interests of California’s judges. Unlike ideology, the material interests of the judiciary can be observed and measured. Through their ownership of bonds in financial and mortgage lending companies, many judges own senior claims on debt, debt that is directly tied to the loans of homeowners. Judges also own equity stakes in corporations, the value of which hinges very much on residential mortgage loans and loan-servicing activities. For example, 42 of California’s 105 appeals court judges own stocks or bonds in financial companies. Seventeen of California’s appeals court judges own stock in Bank of America, while 10 own stock in Citibank, 6 in US Bank, 5 in JPMorgan Chase, and 4 in Wells Fargo. These judges own significant numbers of shares, on average amounting to about $10,000, but some California appeals court judges have revealed in their financial disclosure reports that they own perhaps as much as $1 million in stock in these banks. The implication here is that many of California’s judges have a financial stake in the profitability of the largest mortgage servicers in the state, the same banks that have been brought before the courts in thousands of cases alleging wrongful foreclosure. For example, in the Baldwin case, one of the appeals court judges who ruled in favor of Bank of America, Steven Suzukawa, owned as much as $100,000 in Bank of America stock, according to public records. Another of the judges on the three-judge appellate panel that heard the Baldwin case, Norman Epstein, owned as much as $10,000 in Bank of America stock. This was not disclosed, according to parties involved in the case. Under California’s judicial ethics standards, a judge owning more than $1,500 in stock of a company that is party to a lawsuit should recuse themselves from the case. Baldwin fought on after the setback in the appeals court which was decided in February of this year, petitioning the Supreme Court of California to hear the case. California’s highest court refused to consider the lawsuit, dismissing the petition on May 21. “I am a bit shocked at the failure to review such a new issue that affects thousands,” wrote Lenore Albert, Baldwin’s counsel, in an email. One of the Supreme Court judges who was set to decide whether or not Baldwin would be heard had to recuse himself from even making that preliminary decision. Ming Chin, appointed to the California Supreme Court by former Governor Pete Wilson in 1996, disclosed as much as $100,000 worth of stock in Bank of America. Judge Chin also owns stock in Morgan Stanley, the investment bank that sold billions in mortgage-backed securities during the real estate bubble of the 2000s. Majority of Justices Major Stakeholders in Banks A majority of California’s Supreme Court justices own major stakes in the banks that service the majority of mortgage loans in the state. Justice Marvin Baxter owns shares of Wells Fargo Bank and Citibank. Justice Carol Corrigan owns shares of Citigroup and part of a business called Redwood Mortgage Investors, a private investment company that owns tens of millions of dollars worth of residential mortgage loans in California. Justice Joyce Kennard owns stock in JPMorgan Chase and Citibank. Justice Kathryn Werdegar owns as much as $1 million in Wells Fargo stock. That makes five of California’s seven Supreme Court justices major investors in the mortgage lending and loan servicing industries. “I’m so frustrated,” said one lawyer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, about decisions of California’s judges. “I have my team putting together the wall of shame for the judges, how they’re not enforcing the law.” The state courts, many of them, were individually biased against the consumers,” said retired attorney Don Adams. “The courts were not going to let individual borrowers escape mortgage payments, and were less concerned with stopping the fraudulent and predatory activities that got us into the mess in the first place.” In 2009, Adams sued Countrywide on behalf of a client who sought to quiet title to their home after a tangled deal of loans involving Countrywide, Citibank, and Bank of America led Countrywide to wrongfully foreclose. Countrywide admitted to foreclosing “in error,” but a trial court found in favor of the bank, forcing the borrowers to sign a new loan agreement with Countrywide. Adams and his clients appealed the decision, but then lost before a panel of three judges in California’s Second Appellate District court. One of the judges, Arthur Gilbert, owned stock in Bank of America and Citibank. Another one of the judges, Kenneth Yegan, disclosed two loans for over $1 million he had taken from Countrywide. According to Adams, the bias of the courts in favor of the banks existed long before the foreclosure crisis. “Had courts enforced the law against the lenders, the great recession did not have to occur,” he said. “Many of us were after the New Centurys, the Ameriquests, and Countrywides well before the collapse. Even after the economy imploded, most judges did their best to protect the business interests of the predatory lenders by cynically not wanting to let the consumers ‘off the hook’ without recognizing that borrowers would still have to pay a mortgage, but the lenders would have to unwind the loans and do it again. The courts felt that was too much for the fraudsters – and accordingly protected them.”
(It did not copy across very well, but click the link to get there from here).
In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: July 11, 2014
S14A0391. MITCHELL et al. v. WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A. et al.
HUNSTEIN, Justice. Appellants Richard and Deborah Mitchell appeal from the dismissal of their lawsuit against Appellees Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”), and their successors.1 We find that the trial court properly granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss based on a bill of peace, which barred Appellant Richard Mitchell from filing future lawsuits without prior court approval. Therefore, we affirm.2
In November 2005, Richard Mitchell (“Mitchell”) obtained title to property located at 455 St. Regis Drive, Alpharetta, Georgia, and executed a security deed in favor of MERS, who subsequently assigned the security deed 1Appellants specifically named as defendants “any unknown heirs, devisees, grantees, creditors, successors in interest, and other unknown persons, or unknown spouses claiming by, through and under any of the . . . named defendants.” 2Appellants filed their appeal in the Court of Appeals, which transferred this case to this Court because a substantive issue on appeal involved the legality or propriety of an equitable bill of peace.
to Wells Fargo as trustee. The property was foreclosed upon after Appellants became delinquent on their mortgage payments, and Wells Fargo purchased the property at a foreclosure sale on February 3, 2009. Since that time, Appellants admit that they have made numerous “dilatory filings,” proceeding pro se, in state, federal, and bankruptcy courts.
In May 2010, Mitchell filed a complaint against Wells Fargo in Fulton County Superior Court in case number 2010-CV-185623. Wells Fargo moved to dismiss the complaint and moved for a bill of peace pursuant to OCGA § 23- 3-110 against Mitchell as a measure to end Mitchell’s “meritless filings” in state court. On July 21, 2011, the trial court issued an order granting Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction because Mitchell had not properly served Wells Fargo. The court also granted Wells Fargo’s motion for a bill of peace, finding that the records of Fulton County courts reflected “nothing less than repeated and contemptuous behavior in the courts of this State” and that the lengthy history of filings in federal court showed a pattern of behavior by Mitchell consistent with his state filings. The court concluded that pursuant to OCGA § 23-3-110, “a bill of peace [was] warranted, in order to stop [Mitchell’s] abuse of the courts of Georgia.” The court permanently enjoined Mitchell from filing any pleading or complaint related to the foreclosure and eviction from the property at issue for a period of five years unless Mitchell first received written approval from the court. The court continued that if Mitchell did file such a complaint, Wells Fargo was under no duty to respond, and the complaint or any pleading would be subject to dismissal immediately.
Mitchell moved to set aside the order granting the bill of peace, which the court denied rally during a hearing on February 19, 2013.
3OCGA § 23-3-110 provides as follows: (a) It being the interest of this state that there shall be an end of litigation, equity will entertain a bill of peace: (1) To confirm some right which has been previously satisfactorily established by more than one legal trial and is likely to be litigated again; (2) To avoid a multiplicity of actions by establishing a right, in favor of or against several persons, which is likely to be the subject of legal controversy; or (3) In other similar cases. (b) As ancillary to this jurisdiction, equity will grant perpetual injunctions. 4The court also ordered Mitchell to pay Wells Fargo $4,000 in attorney fees. 5At the time of the filing of this appeal, the trial court had not issued a written order memorializing its oral ruling denying Mitchell’s motion to set aside. 3 Meanwhile, on May 24, 2012, Appellants, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint to quiet title and for injunctive relief with regard to the property against Appellees in Fulton County Superior Court in case number 2012-CV-215444. Wells Fargo moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing inter alia that Mitchell had failed to receive prior written court approval in violation of the bill of peace. Appellants did not respond. On October 18, 2012, the court granted Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss based on good cause, including the fact that Mitchell was barred from filing the complaint pursuant to the bill of peace. Thereafter, Appellants, represented by counsel, filed a motion to reconsider the order dismissing their complaint, a motion to set aside the dismissal order, and an emergency motion for stay of execution of writs of possession pending a ruling on Appellants’ previously filed motions. On November 2, 2012, the court denied all three of Appellants’ motions. Appellants now appeal the dismissal of their complaint, contending that because the court dismissed Mitchell’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction over Wells Fargo in case number 2010-CV-185623, the court had no jurisdiction over Wells Fargo to grant them the relief sought in the bill of peace. They assert that because the court lacked jurisdiction over Wells Fargo, the bill of peace was 4 facially void and a nullity, and they may collaterally attack this void order in this appeal. Appellants thus assert that the trial court erred in dismissing their complaint in case number 2012-CV-215444 by relying on a void bill of peace. Appellees respond that the bill of peace was not void because the court had jurisdiction over Mitchell, and therefore, that the dismissal based on the bill of peace was not in error. We agree with Appellees. In case number 2010-CV-185623, Wells Fargo made a special appearance and thereby consented to the court’s jurisdiction for the limited purpose of filing its motion for a bill of peace, while at the same time contesting the court’s personal jurisdiction over it with respect to Mitchell’s complaint. Additionally, the court had personal jurisdiction over Mitchell, and Appellants do not argue to the contrary. Therefore, the trial court had jurisdiction to issue the bill of peace, and it is not void on its face.6 See Nally v. Bartow County Grand Jurors, 280 Ga. 790 (1) (633 SE2d 337) (2006) (order was not void where the appellant failed to show that the court lacked personal or subject matter jurisdiction). 6We make no ruling on the propriety of the merits of the bill of peace. Without any order setting aside the bill of peace or a reversal thereof on appeal, it remains binding on Mitchell. Accordingly, we find that the court’s dismissal of Appellants’ complaint in case number 2012-CV-215444 based on Mitchell’s failure to comply with the bill of peace was proper. See Rolleston v. Kennedy, 277 Ga. 541, 542 (591 SE2d 834) (2004) (summary dismissal of complaint was correct due to a previously issued bill of peace, which enjoined the plaintiff from claiming an adverse interest in certain property or filing any lawsuit without prior written court approval).8 Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur. We note that the bill of peace names only Richard Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell, however, makes no argument that the bill of peace does not apply to her as well. In any event, we note that an injunction – which is like an equitable bill of peace in many respects – binds not only the persons named in the injunction, but “their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys,” as well as “those persons in active concert or participation with them who receive notice of the order by personal service or otherwise.” OCGA § 9-11-65 (d). 8Appellees’ motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction is hereby denied.
The Georgia Supreme Court determined back when they made the ruling on the You case, that the foreclosing entity does not have to hold the Note, does not have to hold the security deed, and does not have to have an interest in the loan.’
It should not surprise anyone, they had been allowing it to go on for a long time. Now, I am seeing the people who were foreclosed upon between 4 and 6 years ago, are being foreclosed upon again, but this time, by someone new, a different Lender, that never existed. One day the real Lender will come, and they too will foreclose on the borrower.
Has everything gotten so bad, that the courts just don’t care? What ever happened to contract law? Are they going to allow all contracts to be violated by lenders, or just when it comes to real property?
I saw someone the other day, Bank of America had allegedly foreclosed upon the man. Bank of America not only foreclosed, but evicted the man as well. Bank of Americas name is on the Deed Under Power. Bank of America swore under Oath that they were the current party with right to foreclose. A month and a half later, US Bank sold the property to a third party, because they claim that they were the party with rights to the property.
So lets’s get this straight, when did Bank of America turn into US Bank? There was nothing in the record showing Bank of America had any claim to the Note or Deed, nothing showing that Bank of America is anything to the loan. The Deed Under Power of Sale, has Bank of America’s name on it, with some of those squiggly marks that the foreclosing attorneys have been signing for years, to create a fictional assignment. But… US Bank be damned, they were going to get some of that action. So without any documentation recorded anywhere, of any kind, US Bank sold the property to a third party.