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Florida law firms scrutinized in robo-signing scandal

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Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is investigating four of the largest foreclosure law firms in the state, alleging that the firms have manufactured court documents in order to speed up the foreclosure process. A hearing to quash the subpoena against one of the firms, Shapiro & Fishman, was held Thursday with a ruling expected possibly by Monday. A deadline for responding to subpoenas, meanwhile, came and went in late August with most of the firms failing to respond to the AG's request for data. Florida is just one of several states looking into foreclosure practices after recent reports surfaced that allege that Ally Financial and JPMorgan Chase filed potentially faulty affidavits in foreclosure court proceedings. Both lenders have suspended foreclosures amid nationwide calls for investigations into the claims. Bank of America also said Friday that it is reviewing its active foreclosure cases. In addition to Shapiro & Fishman, the AG is looking into foreclosure filing practices at the Law Offices of David J. Stern; Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson; and Florida Default Law Group. McCollum is pursuing the cases for political reasons, said Gerald F. Richman, who is representing Shapiro & Fishman. "No one at the law firm did anything intentionally wrong," Richman said. "The subpoena is a fishing expedition." Richman said Shapiro & Fishman has not provided any documents because the request was overly broad, and the firm believes the AG doesn't have jurisdiction. HousingWire called the three other firms, but could not immediately reach them for comment. One of the attorneys, David J. Stern, is  the subject of a state bar investigation over attorney regulations and has been disciplined by the bar in the past, according to the South Florida Business Journal. In its subpoenas, the AG has requested a list of law firm employees, as well as identification of lending institutions and servicing firms that the firms have worked with over the past five years. It also seeks the names of firms used to draft and execute assignments of mortgage or affidavits for the past five years, and information about process servicers used during the foreclosure process. The subpoenas for Watson, Shapiro and David J. Stern subpoenas also list several specific foreclosure cases by the borrower's name, seeking all documents not covered by attorney-client privilege. Recent data from RealtyTrac shows that while the state's foreclosure rate has declined in the past year, Florida still has the second highest foreclosure rate in the country. Sarah Mueller is an editorial assistant at HousingWire.

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