As a practicing bankrtuptcy attorney in Sacramento I have followed the states progress in the “robo-signing” settlement talks with great interest. Attorney General Kamala Harris has recently made headlines by refusing to sign on to the national settlement, calling it inadequate to compensate Californians for the many losses they incurred in the housing crash. The California Attorney General’s Office has launched independent investigations, including some in cooperation with Nevada. According to the LA Times in an article written Jan. 25, 2012, titled, California calls $25-billion mortgage settlement ‘inadequate,’ Harris and her deputies were invited back to the negotiating table by further concessions from lenders, but ultimately rejected all offers because they were insufficient. However, A spokesperson for Harris told the media that the settlement would prevent her and other AGs from pursuing further independent investigations.
Despite nearly 16 months of investigations and on going negotiation, and the original participation of AGs from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., no deal has been reached. The investigation has been plagued by politics, with conservative AG’s arguing that the settlement is too aggressive and liberal ones countering that it doesn’t go far enough. Particularly, AGs in New York, Delaware, California, Nevada and elsewhere have opted out of the settlement or threatened to and started their own investigations into lending practices. Harris said in late September that the settlement offer at that time did not include enough remedies from the five major lenders for the foreclosure crisis. She and the other breakaway AGs said they’d prefer to see efforts to stop foreclosures and their negative effects, going beyond addressing the fallout from robo-signing itself. A AG’s office spokesperson said: “The current deal still is not transparent enough or sufficient to address Californians’ needs.”
California’s participation in the talks is considered important to any settlement due to the size of the state; California has the resources to bring large lawsuits on its own. According to the article, the latest proposal includes a $17 billion program that would reduce principal on loans that are “underwater,” or larger than the value of the home. Another $5 billion would be earmarked for people directly harmed by robo-signing and other bad servicing practices, and $3 billion would help underwater homeowners refinance at a rate of 5.25%. (Current rates for a 30-year prime mortgage are 4 to 4.5%.) In return, the AGs would agree to release lenders from actions for improper servicing or origination of mortgages — a provision that Harris and some colleagues believe would stop their existing investigations. Delaware has filed a lawsuit alleging MERS has engaged in deceptive practices; Massachusetts has sued five lenders, alleging they knowingly pursued illegal foreclosures.
As a Sacramento Bankruptcy Attorney I am pleased to see our state continue the fight and pursue a settlement that could provide meaningful help to people who were hurt in the housing crisis. That includes people who were directly harmed by robo-signing or other illegal and unethical behavior by lenders, as well as people who are suffering because housing prices have dropped through no fault of their own. Throughout the robo-signing scandal, lenders have downplayed their responsibility, arguing that there was likely no real harm from that particular kind of illegal behavior. This may or may not be true — instances of wrongful foreclosures have been reported — but there’s certainly widespread harm from, for example, their refusal to give meaningful consideration to loan modifications.