We plan on presenting a question and answer series on the Bankruptcy Boot Camp Blog and I am both pleased and proud that the first in the series features Maine attorney, Thomas Cox. Tom has been profiled over the last several months by many news media sources, including the New York Times, ProPublica and Mother Jones. Tom is widely credited as being responsible for causing GMAC/Ally’s (short-lived) foreclosure freeze in some states. That action prompted others in the industry to briefly suspend foreclosures as well, and finally caught the attention of the mainstream media, 50 states Attorneys General and politicians across the country.
I was able to briefly speak with Tom about his recent experience attending the Bankruptcy Boot Camp and here are some of the highlights of our conversation.
Bob: Before your deposition of GMAC’s Jeffrey Stephan, he had previously been deposed as had other so-called “robo-signers.” Mr. Stephan, in fact, had already stated in a prior deposition that he sometimes signed 10,000 documents per month. Why do you think your deposition caught the attention of the media, politicians and as a result, the banks?
Tom: I thought that the previous deposition of Mr. Stephan by Ice Legal exposed some major problems in Stephan’s document signing process, but the fundamental issues regarding his affidavit process remained to be fleshed out. I had actually wanted to depose Mr. Stephen for a year and had been letting my colleagues know that. I reached out to attorneys on the National Association of Consumer Attorneys (NACA) listserv and let them know I had the opportunity to depose Mr. Stephen again. Many of the others shared their ideas with me and I was able to take the time to review their ideas and my own to come up with a plan for questions designed to get Stephan to admit his misconduct.
Because I was volunteering and had the luxury of choosing which cases I wanted to work on and spend all of the time I needed on them, I was able to develop a strategy that I thought would make the most impact. I kept going after GMAC in one case after another with many motions for sanctions and also went after the law firm that was presenting fraudulent documents to the court. In addition to the repeated attacks, I got the state Attorney General involved and also filed a class action demand letter. Finally on September 17, GMAC announced they were halting foreclosures in 23 states.
Bob: GMAC has since resumed foreclosure proceeding and they, as well as the rest of the financial industry, are attributing any problems in foreclosure to mere “technicalities” and “paperwork” issues. What is your response to those statements?
Tom: I’m actually very disappointed in our leaders. They are purposely looking the other way when these large institutions are defrauding our courts. They imagine they are doing it to help the economy, but I believe their ideas are misplaced. They are throwing their principals out the door in the name of the economy but helping these institutions to defraud the courts is not going to help the economy in the long term.
Bob: Coming off all of your successes in foreclosure defense, what expectations did you have going into Max’s Bankruptcy Boot Camp and did it meet those expectations?
Tom: I was hoping to gain even more insight from Max, but the things I learned there went well beyond what I imagined. I found the information to be invaluable and there were several things I learned that I have already put into practice at the legal aid program for which I am the volunteer coordinator. The level of expertise by the our lawyers here in Maine will be raised with this newly acquired information. In fact, knowing what I know now, I would say it is irresponsible for attorneys to practice foreclosure defense without understanding how bankruptcy can be used in foreclosure defense work.
Bob: Was there any one item in particular that surprised you the most during the Boot Camp?
Tom: I didn’t realize there was actually a market to buy and sell debt that has already been legally discharged in bankruptcy. And that these debts could then be securitized like mortgages are.
Bob: One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by prospective Boot Campers is “Will I be able to apply what I learn in my state?” Being a Maine attorney, how would you answer that?
Tom: Absolutely! The knowledge will benefit any attorney, regardless of the state that the practice in. For one thing, the Bankruptcy Code is the same in all 50 states. While not every lawyer may be able to use the full litigation model that Max uses, I have no doubt that major portions of it will be useful in any jurisdiction.