By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 1:39 PM
A Maryland court has begun to review some of 14,500 foreclosure cases pending after finding that the documents were not always signed by the lawyers who claimed to have signed them.
The Prince George's County Circuit Court is reviewing foreclosure cases that have a "corrective affidavit," said Judge Thomas P. Smith, who heads the court's new foreclosure committee. In those affidavits, foreclosure lawyers said that they did not sign the original affidavits or other documents that they purportedly signed before a notary public under oath, but that they reviewed them and affirmed the information is correct, Smith said.
The judge ordered the court's auditor and foreclosure unit clerks on Oct. 6 to refer to his chamber any cases with this kind of supplemental affidavit if there is a motion pending to repossess the house or the foreclosure has not been ratified by the court.
"I'm looking at the first 50 cases on December 9th and the next 50 on December 15th until we finish," Smith said, adding that he has no idea how many cases he will receive. In all the cases at issue, he said, the court is ordering that the foreclosure papers be refiled with a legible signature within 30 days.
"If they fail to do so, the court may dismiss the case without prejudice," Smith said.
Maryland law requires that lenders file documents with the court ahead of foreclosure, but court approval is not needed for the foreclosure sale to occur. The burden is on homeowners to seek a court order to stop the process.
Smith said the problems surfaced in his court in August, when a lawyer representing a homeowner noticed a corrective affidavit in public court records related to his client's case and brought it to the judge's attention. The court then started researching the issue.
Separately, six notaries have been removed from office since August, said Rick Morris, director of charities and legal services at the Maryland secretary of state's office. All worked for law firms that handled foreclosures, Morris said. These notaries did not witness the person sign the document or did not keep not keep a registry as a record as required by state law.
"The six notaries involved in this were afforded the opportunity for a hearing in the office of secretary of state," Morris said. "Based on failure or refusal to have a hearing, we removed them from office."