Media Spotlights Attorney David Stern as Florida's "Foreclosure King" while AG Investigates, Clients Pull Files - Is This Trial by Media? Will There Be More?
The South Florida Business Journal tips its hat to the growing scrutiny Florida attorney David Stern is receiving from the national media in an article describing Intercoastal water taxi tours combining treks past disbarred attorney Scott Rothstein's Las Olas Isles homestead, seized after his $1+ billion Ponzi scheme was discovered, with Stern's yacht (the "Misunderstood") and his own $15 million landmark waterfront mansion.
Throwing Stern's name alongside Scott Rothstein with Rothstein's now infamous and rogue reputation may make good copy - who wouldn't like a tour of Stern's waterfront property? - but it's premature. Stern has not been found guilty of wrongdoing, although as the "Foreclosure King" of Florida, odds are high Stern faces a tough fight to not become the poster boy of Florida Foreclosuregate.
In fact, that shoe may have already dropped, considering the following media coverage over the past week (this is a scant selection of the thousands of newstories covering David Stern and available online):
- The Sun-Sentinel reports that David Stern's firm has been responsible for 20% of Florida's foreclosures (although no dates or time periods are given here).
- Today's online edition of the Wall Street Journal covers both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taking their loan files from the Stern law firm. The article describes the physical removal of client files as a "rare step" for Freddie Mac to take.
- CNN, in an article last week headlined "Are some law firms cutting corners on foreclosures?" describes Stern's firm as being under investigation by Bill McCullom, Florida's Attorney General, along with several other law firms. Stern's attorney then is quoted denying wrongdoing on the part of his client, a quote sandwiched between the earlier information and statements that Stern employees in deposition testimony reported that they were signing foreclosure documentation so fast that they barely knew the names of the parties involved - the story then jumping from this statement to a description of "robo-signing."
- ABCNews interviewed a former Stern Law Firm employee, paralegal Tammie Lou Kapusta, quoting her prediction that this was just the "tip of the iceberg," in an October 13, 2010 article entitled "Florida Foreclosure Lawyer Investigated for Questionable Practices: Multimillionaire Attorney David Stern Amassed Fortune Foreclosing on Homes," again quoting Jeffrey Tew in his defense of David Stern's operations mid-way, in a scant number of words when compared to the length of the article as a whole.
Trial by Media of Attorney David Stern - Is He Just the First Among Many in ForeclosureGate?
What is happening here is not unique to this new national foreclosure story: trial by media is a known cultural event in our country, where individual guilt or innocence is determined by the public at large and covered by the media long before there is any trial on the merits.
The point here is not whether or not David Stern is a greedy lawyer or a dishonest one. Maybe David Stern steals candy from babies and kicks puppies for sport. I do not know David Stern personally. Here's the point: a trial by media is happening here. Surely this wave will not stop with one Florida law firm; banks, other lawyers, trust companies, and others are all vulnerable to this type of exposure. Why?
There is a huge segment of our society that is angry about the number of foreclosures that have happened in the past few years, seeing it as the demise of the American Dream, and there exists another large contingent that is concerned that inaccurate foreclosure methods may result in a long, damaging ripple effect upon the housing industry and indeed, the national economy.
The Irony of Trial by Media in Foreclosure Gate Coverage: Pot Calling the Kettle Black
These are legitimate concerns. However, in the hurry to point fingers and scapegoat evildoers, what are we losing? In this trial by media, isn't there circumvention of legal, procedural protections -- the very thing that Stern et al are being charged with as wrongdoing?
Bottom line, in the bigger picture, is what we are seeing here a more invasive problem in our society than robo-signing foreclosure documents? This is something that deserves some thought.