In Shelby, North Carolina, msnbc.com
- In a stately 19th century mansion in the middle of this former textile mill town, a local political scion has formed a mortgage foreclosure resistance movement.
- O. Max Gardner III, 65, pioneered techniques in preventing big banks from foreclosing on loans and has taught his methods to 559 other lawyers in the last four years. He teaches a sort of legal jiu jitsu: how to exploit opponents' large size and disorganization for the benefit of consumers who do not want to give up their homes.(1)
- Once lawyers exit his training program, they stay on his expanding e-mail list, and are allowed access to an online document repository to share information. They work together to come up with new ways to slow down foreclosures and share strategies on other bankruptcy issues, communicating at a rate of 350 messages a day.
- In the fragmented world of consumer bankruptcy law, where lawyers that represent consumers often work at small firms, Gardner, from his one-person law firm, is creating a sort of virtual law firm with hundreds of partners.
- To his admirers, Gardner is a sort of a folk hero. "He's Atticus Finch," said April Charney, an attorney with Jacksonville Legal Aid in Florida,(2) referring to the lawyer in the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" who is seen as a model for lawyers protecting the disadvantaged. Charney attended one of Gardner's boot camps in 2007, and she has known him since 2004.
- Gardner has been thrust in the limelight recently thanks to what his techniques have uncovered: banks have been taking shortcuts in their efforts to foreclose on homes quickly. Banks and their lawyers have been cranking out paperwork faster than anyone could properly review it, and they are often making mistakes.
- "He's been on top of this from the beginning. He's on the bleeding edge," said David Treywick, a Mount Pleasant, South Carolina-bankruptcy attorney who views Gardner as a leader in the field.
For more, see He’s the ‘Atticus Finch’ of home foreclosures (Lawyer trains others in techniques; demands banks show paperwork).
See also, Bloomberg News: Boot camp turns lawyers into lawyers (Litigator charges $7,775 for 4 days on foreclosure law) (if link expires, try here):
- During days that run 10 to 12 hours, Gardner lectures on topics including “Max’s Favorite Discovery Devices,” “Strategy to Trap Opponents in Their Own Mistakes,” “Mortgage Servicing Litigation: How the Legal Network for Creditors is Organized” and “The Alphabet Problem, A to D Unlawful Transfer of Mortgages and Notes.”
- The heart of Gardner’s strategy is to uncover omissions and errors in mortgage securitizations, the process in which thousands of loans are bundled into bonds and sold to investors. Securitizations are plagued by lost promissory notes and missing or inconsistent tracking of changes in loan ownership, Gardner said. Servicers processing default actions papered over the errors with improperly prepared affidavits and after-the-fact assignments of mortgages, he said.
- “One of my primary objectives is to give you enough knowledge so that you can understand more about the business structure and organization of the creditors than their own lawyers know,” he told the boot-camp class.(3)
(1) Describing the subject matter taught as a way "to exploit opponents' large size and disorganization for the benefit of consumers who do not want to give up their homes" falls woefully short in recognizing the fundamental fact that repsect for process is what gives the judicial process its integrity. It's not the consumer advocate's fault that the foreclosing lenders have somehow come up with the idea that they can conveniently rewrite the rules of court procedure on an as-needed basis.
(2) Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, a 501(c)(3) corporation, is a Florida non-profit law firm specializing in providing civil legal assistance to low-income persons.
(3) According to the story, Linda Tirelli, a consumer-bankruptcy attorney in New York and Connecticut and one of the 599 people who have gone through the program, said she feels as if she’s now part of a big law firm. Tirelli, a sole practitioner who works on contingency, said she now makes four times more from a case than she did before changing her business model. Gardner, who devotes one wall in the boot-camp classroom to framed settlement checks, tells students they can be more profitable by concentrating on a smaller number of cases. Tirelli, who accepts no more than 20 clients a month, said she has the confidence to go up against what Gardner calls “tall building law firms” because the community of graduates in 47 states functions as a unit, exchanging documents and discovering patterns of misconduct, she said. “It’s a fraternity,” Tirelli said. “We don’t see each other as competition. We want more attorneys to join because the more we have the better.”