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Houston's Harris County eyes MERS suit

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The Harris County Attorney's Office in Houston is prepping for a possible suit against the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS. The county attorney's office told HousingWire it plans to ask the Harris County Commissioners Court to approve the hiring of an outside counsel to pursue a complaint against MERS. The exact legal theory for a potential suit is still being ironed out, but Robert Soard, chief of staff at the Harris County Attorney's Office, said, if filed, the complaint would include the legal theory that MERS prevented the county from obtaining  proper filing fees every time a new mortgage assignment was made within the MERS registry. "We have been looking at this matter for well over a year," Soard said. A spokesperson for MERS said if something hasn't been filed, it can't respond to the allegations. "We have no specific comment on issues that may be raised in a complaint that might be filed at some point in the future," MERS said in a statement. "Nothing has been filed by these counties, and the only information we have is speculative and learned from various press accounts we've seen." A spokesperson for MERS added, "I reiterate that MERS complies with the recording statutes and mortgage regulations in Texas (as well as other states) and the legality of MERS' business model has already been affirmed in numerous cases decided by Texas courts and by federal courts. Should any new litigation be filed, we will defend the merits in the appropriate venue." Harris County's pursuit of a MERS case follows on the heels of the Dallas County DA's suit against MERS earlier this month. Soard said Harris County is still crunching data to determine what is owed in mortgage filing fees. To date, he has a rough estimate of $11 million in fees from the nine-year period, stretching from 2002 to 2011. Soard said the county is trying to obtain permission to hire outside counsel because the scope of the suit is too much for in-house attorneys due to the level of investigation and the number of entities involved. Write to Kerri Panchuk.

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