Nearly a year after her death, the work of Apalachicola artist Susan Richardson is living on in the courts, as her brother, with the help of a Miami attorney, is continuing to wage her lonely, multi-year mission to save her home from foreclosure.
Bruce Jacobs, a former Miami prosecutor who for the past 12 years has honed the foreclosure defense aspect of his practice at www.jakelegal.com, took on the case during the last stages of Richardson’s battle with cancer, which she succumbed to June 30, 2019.
At her memorial service, the attorney promised he would stand by John Richardson to continue his sister’s work to save the home she had bought in Jan. 1998, and then invested almost double the purchase price to renovate the house over the next eight years.
Richardson continued to pay her mortgage on time, refinancing it in 2006 with Quicken. So typical of the dealings that became part of and parcel of the real estate crisis, that loan was sold to Countrywide, which went belly up in 2008, and the loan fell into the hands of Bank of America which by 2014 had launched a full-scale foreclosure effort.
Richardson kept a meticulous record of her Kafkaesque dealings with the maze of bankers, mortgage representatives and government officials she tried to maneuver through, continuing to believe, as Jacobs does today, that Bank of America had done more than just mystify everything.
He alleges the banking giant had committed at least three potential felonies: forgery, by attesting to the accuracy of signatures that they did not themselves ink; and perjury, by lying about it to the courts; and racketeering, by doing so in a systematic and widespread way.
The problem, however, is that the law makes critical distinctions as to what can and cannot be argued, distinctions that became all the more important when financial institutions are bundling and selling financial instruments such as mortgages.
At some point, the mortgage had passed out of the hands of Bank of America and into the those of the Wilmington Savings Fund Society, and more specifically the Christiana Trust as trustee of Carlsbad Funding Mortgage Trust.
"Susan was procedurally going about this the wrong way," said Jacobs. "When she fought this through the years and became known as an activist, she had been trying to sue Wilmington for fraud on the court done by Bank of America."
So the Miami attorney stepped in and handled the matters on behalf of John Richardson, who is the personal representative of his sister’s estate.
It all gets even more complicated at this point, but the gist of it is that the mortgage holders were able to get a default judgment by filing paperwork through the clerk of courts’ office that took advantage of a possible discrepancy in wording between the Susan Richardson estate and that of John Richardson as her personal representative.
The problem facing Jacobs, which he hoped to have resolved in his client’s favor at a one-hour hearing slated for Tuesday, morning June 2 is that he has to convince Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to vacate the default against John Richardson before he can wage his argument there had been potentially criminal funny business going on with the loan back when Bank of America had it.
As it turned out, Tuesday’s one-hour hearing turned out to be all about another default that Jacobs had gotten against Bank of America, leaving precious little time for Richardson’s lawyer to address the default he most cares about.
"Justice delayed is how I look at this today," said Jacobs.
As it turned out, the Bank of America attorney spent the bulk of the hearing arguing why Jacobs’ default judgment against the bank should be vacated.
"He goes on forever about how every ’I’ that wasn’t dotted," said Jacobs. "The judge kept saying how upset he was at the way the default was entered, and I agree with him."
In the end, Dodson granted the bank’s motion to vacate the default against the bank, setting the stage for Jacobs to refile the matter at a future date
The problem, however, is that the hearing had run out of time, and the judge said that Jacobs’ motion to vacate the judgment against his client would have to be heard at a later date
Jacobs is confident that he will win that one, since he believes he has a good case as to why the courts have traditionally looked askance at the manner in which the default was obtained against his client.
Jacobs contends that it had been a scrivener’s error that enabled the plaintiffs to secure the default judgment, and that the law calls for judges to ensure that such cases are argued on their merits, and not on technical maneuvers by savvy attorneys.
"We’re in a very odd procedural position, I’ve never seen anything like this in 22 years of litigating," he said.
"The banks are doing their best to catch every ‘i‘ we misdotted. Their objections are all flyspecking stuff," he said.
"They had been doing their own maneuvers while I was trying to follow the rules," Jacobs said. "They didn’t tell me after they got the default so I could deal with it. We could have resolved this at any point; I could have fixed whatever I needed to fix. All of this a dirty underhanded trick."
So on Tuesday Jacobs planned to argue that the problem was "excusable neglect" and that the right thing to do is to move forward with enabling each side to make its case as to whether the property should be taken out of the Richardsons’ hands.
"The law is that it’s highly favored to have these cases filed on the merits," he said.
The plaintiffs, of course, have a different view.
"My client isn’t Bank of America; Bank of America isn’t party to this case," Wilmington’s attorney Laura Noyes, with the Tampa firm of Cass, Shuler, told Dodson at the hearing Monday morning. "They are looking for documents in Bank of America’s possession but not my client’s."
Noyes on Tuesday asked for a two-hour evidentiary hearing when the matter is heard, which will likely further delay the process.
"We have to wait now until the court finds two hours on the calendar," Jacobs said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Jacobs voiced his frustration.
"I went into a whole speech, that nobody stopped me from making, that if you are upset that I did something wrong, then be equally upset that they did something wrong," he said.
"Susan Richardson carried this fight by herself. Everybody is entitled to a speedy resolution," Jacobs told the court.