Far and above the finest, most aggressive and most principled foreclosure lawyers in this state are the attorneys working at Ice Legal in West Palm Beach, Florida. Next to the nationally respected pioneer in foreclosure defense, April Charney from Jacksonville Legal Aid, no single group of lawyers has done more to advance the cause of foreclosure defense and to protect the core and substantive rights of consumers than Tom Ice and the fantastic lawyers he has working with him.
The members of the Ethical and Principled Foreclosure Defense Bar, consumers and indeed all across this state have benefited immeasurably because of the exceptional legal work they have produced. If you’ve had a chance to review any of their pleadings or taken the time to read any of the numerous depositions they’ve taken, you should appreciate the attention to detail, the crisp and clean nature of the pleadings and the precision of their application of the law to the unique facts of the case.
Matt then goes on to say…
I am frankly deeply troubled by reports I hear on a regular basis that seem to suggest some courtrooms across this state are leaning too much in favor of “pushing through this foreclosure crisis” than carefully considering the important ethical, social and jurisprudential consequences of sloppy, inaccurate or fraudulent legal work. So called “Rocket Docket” or “Foreclosure Gas Chambers” that have been set up in circuits across the state are ratifying and confirming the development of institutionalized processes and procedures that encourage the production of sloppy, inaccurate and potentially fraudulent legal work product.
In which he brings us back to Palm Beach County Foreclosure Court…
I encourage all advocates, and especially members of the Bar and Bench, to read and consider the matters asserted in the motion carefully. I urge us all to consider that everytime we step into a courtroom, whether it be for a small claims case, a death penalty case or a terrorist trial, the same rules and principles apply. That imposing and awe-inspiring court shown above should be in each of our minds every time we step into a courtroom and we should all be asking ourselves, how would these learned judges sitting below view my conduct in this case?
Some excerpts from the motion…
Defendants reasonably fear they will not receive a fair trial or hearing and that the Judge before whom the case is pending is interested in the result thereof.
Judge Sasser Owns Stock in Bank of America Corporation.
According to the Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interest filed by Judge Sasser April 19, 2010, she owns 1,000 shares of the Preferred, Series H Stock of Bank of America Corporation (BAC_ph.N), which at the price per share on April 12th equates to $25,820.00.
As a result, the Judge holds an equity stake in the company that will profit from the outcome of this case.
The Judge Sasser’s Stock Ownership Requires Disqualification.
A. The Judge’s equity stake in BoA is a significant interest.
Under California law, that amount is a one percent share of the company or $1,500. In this case, the Judge’s holdings (worth $25,820.00) are more than seventeen times the amount that requires disqualification under California law.
B. The Judge’s investments in BoA can be substantially affected by the collective outcomes of this case and other cases brought by the same banks and assigned to the same Judge.
While the Defendants may only estimate how many cases are currently pending before this Judge in which a Bank of America Corporation subsidiary is the Plaintiff, it cannot be disputed that Florida has consistently ranked in the top three states having the highest number of foreclosures in the past three years and that the tri-county area (Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade) ranked tenth in the nation for foreclosure filings last year. At last report, 55,000 foreclosure cases were pending before the Fifteenth Circuit for Palm Beach County—all assigned to one judge, the Judge in this case. If just 14.2 percent of these cases were filed by a of America Corporation subsidiary, they would collectively have 7,810 cases in front of this Judge. If these cases involve homes with values averaged at $200,000, the total collateral at stake for BoA in cases assigned to this Judge would be over 1.5 billion dollars. The total debt for the promissory notes in these cases—assets on the books of BoA—would be far greater. This single Judge, therefore, not only makes the legal decisions in more than one and a half billion dollars of BoA assets, but also sits as the trier of fact. As the only judge presiding over one of the largest foreclosure caseloads in the country, Judge Sasser has, in all probability, more BoA cases assigned to her, and thus more of its assets under her jurisdiction and control, than any other judge nationwide. There can be no doubt that the Judge in this case, therefore, is in a position to substantially affect the value of her own stock. Because, under these circumstances, the Judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, the Judge must disqualify herself…
The Judge’s Other Investments in the Banking and Financial Industries is an Additional Reasonable Basis to Question Her Impartiality.
A. Bank of New York Mellon.
By the same analysis used above, it may be estimated that Judge Sasser also presides over three quarters of a billion dollars of assets of Bank of New York Mellon, in which she owns stock worth $5,369.10.
B. Fiserv, Inc.
Judge Sasser also owns 75 shares (or $3,882.75) of Fiserv, Inc. (FSIV), which provides information management and electronic commerce systems and services to the financial industry. It has a fifteen-year business relationship with Bank of America Corporation, which plays a pivotal role in the eyes of analysts in rating Fiserv shares.
Its business unit, Fiserv Lending Solutions, provides a loan servicing platform called MortgageServ to banks servicing loans. Its software system includes a “processing environment” for Default Management, which comprises Collections, Bankruptcy Foreclosure and Loss Mitigation Fiserv, therefore, is not only a company that supports the Servicers prosecuting foreclosure cases before Judge Sasser, but for those cases filed by Fiserv customers, the Fiserv software supplies the information upon which the Court relies for making its decisions whether to grant foreclosure.
C. BlackRock, Inc.
While ownership of securities in mutual funds is normally “not an economic interest in such securities,” it can become a disqualifying interest if the proceedings could substantially affect the value of the interest. Here, Judge’s Sasser’s personal investments in mutual funds heavily invested in, or managed by, companies connected with the banking industry (or with securities backed by mortgages) top more than a third of a million dollars ($349,837.80).
Judge Sasser owns 11,947 shares of MCLOX, BlackRock Global Allocation C, valued at $206,332.13, which includes in its top 25 holdings: J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo Company. She also owns 5000 shares of BlackRock High Income Shares (HIS.N), valued at $10,550.00. Launched by BlackRock, Inc., this fund is managed by BlackRock Advisors, LLC and BlackRock Financial Management, Inc.
BlackRock, Inc. is heavily involved in the management of so-called toxic mortgages, having been contracted to manage the Maiden Lane holdings that the Federal Reserve took over from Bear Stearns and American International Group, Inc. “The Fed’s vehicle known as Maiden Lane LLC has securities backed by mortgages from lenders including Washington Mutual Inc. and Countrywide Financial Corp. “The U.S. government is relying on money-management firms such as BlackRock to help manage and dispose of devalued assets after the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in 2007…”
Accordingly, in investing over $216,000 through the BlackRock funds, Judge Sasser is conducting business with a company that thrives on the management and disposal of assets backed by sub-prime mortgages, many of which are in foreclosure, and some of which may be at issue in Judge Sasser’s Division.
Moreover, the BlackRock Global Allocation C fund itself is fueled by investments in the financial institutions that regularly appear in her courtroom. Wells Fargo Company, alone, may easily represent and estimated 6.4 percent of the Palm Beach County foreclosure cases, while J.P. Morgan cases would weigh in at 1.5 percent. Taken together, Judge Sasser would preside over 4,345 cases for which BlackRock assets, estimated at $869 million, are at stake.
And finally, it appears that all of Judge Sasser’s investments, whether in the BlackRock funds, other mutual funds, or directly in Bank of New York Mellon or Bank of America Corporation are also being managed by BlackRock. Although the Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interest states that the “Individual Stocks [are] held by Barclays,” Barclays Global Investors was purchased by BlackRock in December of 2009.
D. Davis NY Venture C mutual fund.
Additionally, Judge Sasser owns 4,165.27 shares worth $132,955.67 in a mutual fund called Davis NY Venture C (NYVCX). The top 25 holdings for that fund include Wells Fargo Company, Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Using the same estimations recited above, it may be concluded that Judge Sasser has within her jurisdiction and control over $1.6 billion of assets in the Davis mutual fund.
E. Pioneer Strategic Income C mutual fund.
Judge Sasser owns 3846.15 shares (or $40,153.85) of Pioneer Strategic Income C (PSRCX). Pioneer invests 80% of its assets in debt securities, including mortgage backed securities. Among its top 25 investments are JPMorgan Chase FRN, Goldman Sachs Cap II FRN, Wells Fargo Cap XIII FRN, Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae).
Accordingly, not only does Judge Sasser have a substantial stake in the outcome of all her BoA cases, but directly or indirectly—through her ownership interest of Bank of New York Mellon, her ownership interest in a company that maintains foreclosure information for foreclosure plaintiffs and their servicers, her ownership of mutual funds invested in banking industry stock and mortgage backed securities, and her business dealings with BlackRock, the manager of the Maiden Lane toxic mortgage assets—she has a stake in the outcome in nearly all the cases before her.
Judge Sasser’s investments that may be impinged by the outcome of cases in her division are:
Because the Fifteenth Circuit groups all foreclosure cases in a single division, all the cases in the division involve the same subject matter (the confiscation of real property) and all are brought by a relatively small number of banking industry plaintiffs. As the judge presiding over this division, Judge Sasser is in the unique position wherein billions of dollars of assets sought by a handful of plaintiffs are subject to her decisions. Since the structure of the division affords Judge Sasser the ability to exercise her influence over thousands of cases brought by individual plaintiffs, so too must the potential affect of “the proceedings” be measured.
Coupled with the fact that Judge Sasser has such a substantial sum of her own savings invested in the entities (or symbiotically related entities) which appear on only one side of her cases, a rational basis exists for questioning whether she can be impartial. No judge should be permitted to continue to preside over cases where such a cloud of impartiality hangs over the entire division.
The full motion and exhibits are below…