Michigan county approves funding to help homeowners fight MERS, DocX cases
A committee for the Ingham County Board of Commissioners in Michigan approved up to $60,000 in Legal Aid funding to represent borrowers affected by allegedly improper foreclosures and possible documentation fraud. The full board is scheduled to approve the resolution June 14. The county's Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr. uncovered potential fraudulent documents in his office calling into question hundreds of foreclosures. Hertel told HousingWire Wednesday he found 400 cases with possible fraudulent documentation involving Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems and another 100 involving DocX, a division of Lender Processing Services (LPS). According to the resolution adopted by Ingham County, the alleged wrongful foreclosures by MERS resulted in more than 400 people losing their homes over the last two years. The legal assistance provided to affected homeowners will be made available between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. Both MERS and LPS signed consent orders with federal regulators in April as a result of a robo-signing scandal that engulfed multiple mortgage industry firms. Regulators required the two companies to "address significant weaknesses in, among other things, oversight, management supervision and corporate governance." MERS declined to comment on the Michigan subsidies. LPS did not immediately reply to requests for comment. The Michigan Attorney General launched his own investigation into legacy DocX affidavits after Bill Bullard, the Register of Deeds in Oakland County uncovered questionable signatures and improper documentation as well. The Michigan Court of Appeals required MERS in April to pursue foreclosures through the courts, even when the state normally uses a nonjudicial process. Consumer advocates lobbied Washington for a federal funding program to help homeowners in these cases. Thad Bartholow, a foreclosure defense attorney for Armstrong Kellett Bartholow in Dallas, said such a program sounds like a good idea but could cause more harm in the long run. "In particular, I would have concerns about creating a parallel to the already horrible problem with 'foreclosure rescue' scams by incentivizing shoddy or unscrupulous attorneys with little experience in this highly technical area of the law to take these cases, perhaps even on a volume basis, and absorbing the settlement funds without adequately serving their clients," Bartholow said. Hertel said other patterns cropped up in his investigation, which the courts are looking into. Bartholow said the issues arising out of these and federal probes seems unending in scope. "Calling the problem of robosigning 'epidemic” is a gross understatement," Bartholow said. "Virtually industry-wide, it was the norm, with very few exceptions." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.