Judge quashes Florida AG's Shapiro & Fishman subpoena
A judge in Palm Beach County Florida on Monday ruled that Attorney General Bill McCollum lacks jurisdiction to gather data from a law firm that he alleges is manufacturing documents to speed the foreclosure process in Florida. Monday's ruling involves the law firm of Shapiro & Fishman, which sought to quash the subpoena seeking information into its foreclosure filing practices on the argument that it was overly broad, among other arguments. McCollum is investigating four of the largest foreclosure law firms in the state over their foreclosure filing practices. Monday's ruling only involves one firm in the investigation. In his five page ruling, Judge Cox said the Attorney General lacks jurisdiction and said the subpoena seeking information from Shapiro & Fishman was overly broad, vague, inconsistent and unduly burdensome. Cox said any misconduct is "subject only to regulation by the Florida State Bar and/or the Circuit Court, and ultimately the Supreme Court," according to the ruling. The AG was seeking information under the state's deceptive and unfair trade practices act. Cox said he also found it troubling that the AG was attempting by way of the subpoena to obtain personal, financial and business information without giving those individuals notice and an opportunity to protect their constitutional rights to privacy. “This is a great victory for our client against the attorney general’s office’s continued attempts to impose burdensome barriers in their fishing expedition,” said Gerald Richman and Leora Freire of Richman Greer, legal counsel for Shapiro & Fishman, in a media statement. “This is a prime example of abuse of government power. We continually expressed our willingness to voluntarily cooperate and discuss any complaints, but it always fell on deaf ears. At this stage, our client is still willing to voluntarily cooperate with the AG’s office to assuage any concerns.” McCollum's office is reviewing the ruling, said AG spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins. "Our attorneys are discussing our options and deciding whether to appeal," she said. Richman and Freire said Shapiro & Fishman is confident that the facts will show no unlawful or improper intent on the part of the firm or its employees. Florida is just one of several states looking into foreclosure practices after recent reports surfaced that allege that Ally Financial, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America filed potentially faulty affidavits in foreclosure court proceedings. All three lenders have suspended foreclosures amid nationwide calls for investigations into the claims. 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. While foreclosures filings fell nationwide in August, Florida has the second highest rate of filings in the country, behind only Nevada, according to RealtyTrac, which analyzes foreclosure data. One in every 155 Florida housing units received a foreclosure filing in August — 2.5 times the national average. Write to Kerry Curry.