TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – The Plantation lawyer whose firm was handling tens of thousands of foreclosure cases at the height of the financial crisis is ending his fight to hold onto his law license.
The likely disbarment of David Stern would mark the most significant punishment handed down to any of the Florida attorneys whose work came under fire as the number of foreclosures soared in the Sunshine State.
Critics had charged that attorneys have not been punished adequately for their role in falsifying documents through fake signatures and backdating records and through not giving homeowners proper notice that they faced foreclosure.
In late January, a month after inquiries from the Associated Press, the Florida Bar found probable cause for 17 counts against Stern. The alleged violations include misconduct and failure to supervise non-lawyers properly. Some of the complaints were more than two years old and some even came from judges.
Stern’s attorney initially said his client had done nothing unethical and questioned if the Bar could prove that the South Florida attorney did anything to merit punishment.
The Palm Beach Post reported last month that during a five-day hearing into the charges, Stern argued that his Plantation-based firm simply made a few mistakes in a tiny percentage of the 277,000 foreclosure cases it handled.
Jeffrey Tew, the lawyer representing Stern, filed a one-page document Friday with the Florida Supreme Court stating that Stern has decided to end his fight against recommendations that he be disbarred. A referee has also recommended that Stern pay nearly $50,000 in costs to the Bar.
Tew did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The judge acting as a referee in the case told the Supreme Court that Stern’s actions had “created chaos” in the courts.
The October report included testimony from six judges complaining about Stern and his firm’s lawyers. Judge Nancy Perez contended that Stern’s failure to exercise care was not “isolated, but rather a representation of the culture of the firm, as to the low-level of competence and ethics.”
It will be up to the state Supreme Court to decide whether to impose the recommended punishment.
Matt Weidner, an attorney who represents homeowners fighting foreclosures, said Stern’s disbarment still doesn’t match the “magnitude of harm” that came from his firm’s efforts. “Being disbarred is effectively no punishment,” Weidner said.
The allegations of wrongdoing in foreclosures caused banks to stop foreclosures temporarily more than two years ago. Five major banks would end up reaching a $25 billion settlement with Florida and other states to end an investigation into foreclosure abuses.
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