Lenders Compound Court Errors

Banks use a made-up tactic to ‘ratify’ home seizures, experts say.

By Christine Stapleton and Kimberly Miller

Scores of Palm Beach County homes were foreclosed on with faulty paperwork that banks are now trying to sidestep with a legal maneuver experts say doesn’t even exist.

A Palm Beach Post review of court documents filed after last fall’s robo-signing scandal found 116 Palm Beach County cases in which attorneys for banks have asked a judge to ratify a final foreclosure judgment even though flawed documents “may” have been used to foreclose on the property.

Nearly half of the homes – 48 percent – have been sold at foreclosure auction. Tampa-based Florida Default Law Group, being investigated by the state attorney general, filed all of those foreclosures. All but three of the homes auctioned were seized based on documents signed by Jeffrey Stephan, a renowned robo-signer.

They were spotted because lawyers filed “motions to ratify” the final foreclosure judgment – an unheard-of request apparently aimed at getting judges to uphold the original case, the amounts owed to the bank, and attorney fees.

A judge’s blessing on the back end could discourage challenges to ownership and title down the road.

Also, the motions could be intended to stave off complaints that the attorneys knew about robo-signed and forged documents but proceeded with foreclosures anyway.

“They are trying to avoid a lot of big problems with those ratifications, including suits for malpractice, but it should not work,” said Sarasota attorney Henry Trawick, an expert on Florida’s judicial rules and author of Trawick’s Florida Practice & Procedure. “You can’t ratify a final judgment that was based on fraud.”

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