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P.T. Barnum and Consumer Debt

p t barnum's ill news4-thumb-350x470-17752Most people remember P.T. Barnum for the line – “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Great – if not cynical -line, but Barnum never said it.

I have been thinking of him in a slightly different context lately, however. Over the past two weeks or so I’ve made a series of posts on my Facebook page concerning consumer debt – all of them pretty sobering. Like the New York Times article about car repossessions and military personel.   

I seems that when cars are illegally repossessed by lenders, there is no recourse through the courts. There is a clause in many – many – financial contracts that require all disputes be settled in binding arbitration. Only. Continue reading P.T. Barnum and Consumer Debt

“They’re More Like Guidelines . . .”

I continue to get foreclosure clients at various stages of the ‘process’. Very rarely, these days, do I start with someone who just got served or, best case scenario, someone who knows they are about to go into foreclosure and wants to plan their response.

There are a lot of reasons for this, every one of which I understand. And will probably write about in the near future.

The ramifications of this trend have really hit home over the past month or so. Recently, I spent a morning in court for a “short-calendar” day – that’s a day devoted exclusively to motions concerned with various stages of foreclosure actions. There were a little over one hundred items on the docket. One hundred decisions that a judge had to make.

Besides myself, the judge, clerk, and marshal, there were eight other people in the room. For One hundred motions. Two plaintiff attorneys representing the banks (yes, they had every case) and six defendants there to speak up.

There are two sides to every argument, but only if two sides show up. On that day, out of one hundred plus motions, the judge heard seven arguments. Ninety-three plus motions were decided by default judgement.

Connecticut state courts are jammed with foreclosure cases. It’s a sad fact and it’s not going to change anytime soon.  When overwhelmed by work, it’s basic human nature to shortcut the workpile – especially the tedious.

Any fan of Pirates of the Caribbean can tell you what happens next:

The code becomes more like guidelines instead of rules‘. I can do a lot of good at any stage of the process, and I do – but when I come in after the rules becomes guidelines stage I come in with less ammunition that I would have earlier in the process.

Received a text from a client who saw one of my videos earlier this week. She eloquently summed up the foreclosure process. And made my day…

 … it’s the fear that tends to take one’s life over but I’m happy to have you on my side, knowing that you care . . .you are a saint in the eyes of this foreclosure. Which is hell “

Expectations

Expectations are funny things – personal, largely unspoken, the basis for relationships while probably one the main reasons relationships fail.

In any relationship the longer expectations are left unspoken, the more divergent they become until you get the situation below:

Foreclosure defense is rife with expectations, few of them grounded in what actually occurs during the court process.

A few years ago it was widely reported that up to 90% of people foreclosed on failed to show up at court. Period. The majority of them no doubt expected that after missing mortgage payments, everything from there on out was inevitable – a quick look around the Internet easily reinforced that – so why add the stress of spending a day in court?

Now, many people going into foreclosure are angry – at themselves, their banks, mortgage brokers, investors that bought securitized mortgage instruments, Congress, Wall Street, and on and on – a quick look around the Internet easily reinforces this.

My job with both these categories – and all the ones in between, they tend to create some very interesting Venn Diagrams (more on that later) – is managing their expectations . . .  no, that’s wrong, my job is to set their expectations.

Simply: we are not going to court to roll up in a ball and acquiesce to everything the bank’s lawyers toss at us; conversely, we are not going to court to right the wrongs of the Recession, undo securitized loans, return the financial world to the way it was in the good old days before . . .

I am going to court to get a fair and equitable deal for you and take some stress out of your life.

That’s it, anything else adds to the stress levels for all of us and can lead to perilous situations – and none of us have Bond’s ability to escape time after time.

Behind the Scenes in Foreclosure Defense . . . or Show Up Part II

In a blog post a week or so ago I wrote about the importance of showing up – a theme I’ll be writing more about in the next few days. With foreclosures it’s also important to show up – in some regard – at legislative hearings … for all the same reasons.

Cheddar, The Plague, Boom Beach, and Foreclosures

“There’s always free cheddar in the mousetrap, baby…”

tomwaitsThat’s a line from a Tom Waits’ song called, fittingly enough, God’s Away on Business.

I help people involved in really scary personal financial debacles – it doesn’t get much worse than having someone trying to take your house … unless you’ve had your identity stolen, or …

I deal in issues that became crises shortly after the Recession began and are still going strong.

People being people, no crisis has ever comesherwood_thomas_practitioner-the_charitable_pestmaster-crop and gone without someone figuring out how to gain from the misery. As far back as the Black Plague, charlatans masqueraded as doctors and roamed the streets peddling cures, charging exorbitant fees from increasingly desperate survivors.

It’s a given that whenever and wherever there’s a crisis there are the people who try to fix it, people who flee, people who suffer, and people who find a way to make easy money.

It’s no surprise then that when it comes to foreclosures the Internet is teeming with free advice, theories, legal forms, briefs, motions, magic potions.

As is the case with a lot of the Internet, the advice starts out free, little bits of ‘if you do this’ and ‘do that’ you might ‘end up with this’. Just enough free advice to get you started while jamming the courts with unsupported pleadings (more on that latter).

boombeachSomewhere along the road, of course, maybe just to cover the cost of maintaining such a helpful site, there’s a charge. That place usually occurs at a key junction of the case.  The charges will not, of course, stop there. Think a smart phone/tablet game app – if you want to win you have to start racking up in-app purchases.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about this in more detail. For now, just remember, stay away from the cheddar.

Eighty Percent of Life …

… is just showing up. I think someone in Annie Hall said that and I, woodyallencertainly, don’t dispute it, it makes sense in a number of ways.

Funny thing about showing up – things happen. Funny thing about not showing up – bad stuff happens.

The single most important thing I can, and do, tell anyone facing foreclosure, or small claims court, or student loan action, or … anything requiring action in a court of law is the simplest thing – Show Up.

See, with court actions what many, many people don’t get is this – you, and at some point hopefully your attorney – are the only people in the process there to protect your rights. That you have many rights in any action is indisputable, it’s just that the opposing party has no interest, no reason to protect them for you.

If you don’t show up the process becomes this – ‘how quickly can we clear the case?’ Say it’s a foreclosure, the plaintiff’s law firm wants it off their growing pile of cases as soon as possible for profit’s sake; the judge and clerk want the docket sheet cleared as they are graded on efficiency; the bank wants someone, anyone, paying something, as soon as possible. And it goes on.

So, then, here’s what happens when you don’t show up and you leave your matter entirely in the hands of the bank’s attorney and the court – imagine the court is the teller and the plaintiff is Ricky Gervais:

If this is an exaggeration it’s a slight one. The only way to stop this is to show up. It’s that simple.

Neat thing about showing up, by the way, it works at almost any point in the process. It’s almost never too late. Though, of course, the sooner you do, the more options left open.