Lawyers Behaving Badly

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Cripes:

… A lawyer representing Ms. Hill in her bankruptcy case, Kenneth Steidl, of Steidl and Steinberg in Pittsburgh, wrote Countrywide a few weeks later stating that Ms. Hill had been deemed current on her mortgage during the period in question. But in May, Countrywide sent Ms. Hill another notice stating that her loan was delinquent and demanding that she pay $4,715.58. Neither Mr. Steidl nor Julia Steidl, who has also represented Ms. Hill, returned phone calls seeking comment.

Justifying Ms. Hill’s arrears, Countrywide sent her lawyer copies of three letters on company letterhead addressed to the homeowner, as well as to Mr. Steidl and Ronda J. Winnecour, the Chapter 13 trustee for the western district of Pennsylvania.

The Countrywide letters were dated September 2003, October 2004 and March 2007 and showed changes in escrow requirements on Ms. Hill’s loan.”This letter is to advise you that the escrow requirement has changed per the escrow analysis completed today,”each letter began.

But Mr. Steidl told the court he had never received the letters. Furthermore, he noticed that his address on the first Countrywide letter was not the location of his office at the time, but an address he moved to later. Neither did the Chapter 13 trustee’s office have any record of receiving the letters, court records show.

When Mr. Steidl discussed this with Leslie E. Puida, Countrywide’s outside counsel on the case, he said Ms. Puida told him that the letters had been”recreated”by Countrywide to reflect the escrow discrepancies, the court transcript shows. During these discussions, Ms. Puida reduced the amount that Countrywide claimed Ms. Hill owed to $1,500 from $4,700.

Under questioning by the judge, Ms. Puida said that”a processor”at Countrywide had generated the letters to show how the escrow discrepancies arose.”They were not offered to prove that they had been sent,”Ms. Puida said. But she also said, under questioning from the court, that the letters did not carry a disclaimer indicating that they were not actual correspondence or that they had never been sent.

A Countrywide spokesman said that in bankruptcy cases, Countrywide’s automated systems are sometimes overridden, with technicians making manual adjustments”to comply with bankruptcy laws and the requirements in the jurisdiction in which a bankruptcy is pending.”Asked by Judge Agresti why Countrywide would go to the trouble of”creating a letter that was never sent,”Ms. Puida, its lawyer, said she did not know. …

Detailed analysis and commentary here. Via Froomkin.

Countrywide holds my mortgage, and after a re-finance started sending me correspondence and payment coupons written soley in Spanish.   I speak Spanish, but not that well, and I was worried about missing something or misunderstanding something important. Me tomó mitad de las llamadas telefónicas docena altamente agravating para conseguirlos cambiados encima al inglés. No conseguí afortunadamente un aviso de la ejecución de una hipoteca durante este intervalo. Por lo menos por lo que podía decir.

–Ann Bartow

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