Friday, November 13, 2015

Despite Original Attorney Having Been Bought Off By Bankster w/ Job Offer, Houston Homeowner Scores Nearly $5.4 Million Jury Award In Robosigning Case That Violated Texas Law Barring Filing Fraudulent Documents About Real Property Interests

In Houston, Texas, Texas Lawyer reports:
  • W. Craft Hughes learned about allegations in a lawsuit four years ago, when his neighbor knocked on the door of his home. This started the chain of events that led to his clients winning a nearly $5.4 million jury verdict against Wells Fargo Bank and a mortgage servicing company on Nov. 6.

    "My clients live five doors down, but I didn't know them," recalled Hughes, a partner in Houston's Hughes Ellzey.

    Mary Ellen Wolf was the neighbor who knocked and became Hughes' client, along with her husband. At that first meeting, Wolf told Hughes that she faced a foreclosure proceeding initiated by Wells Fargo, even though she alleged that she and her husband had never signed a mortgage with that institution.

    "'I can't help. I'm too busy and I don't do that kind of work,'" Hughes recalled telling Wolf. As it happened, the lawyer whom the Wolfs hired instead of Hughes subsequently had to withdraw because she accepted a position with Wells Fargo.

    That turn of events so interested Hughes in the Wolfs' allegation that he took a second look and agreed to represent the couple. He not only took their case but also those of other similarly situated clients and filed class actions in federal court against Wells Fargo and other banks based on allegations of voided transfer of liens due to robo-signing. Those federal court claims, however, were dismissed based on a ruling that Hughes' clients didn't have standing.

    But the outcome was much different in the Wolfs' case in the 151st District Court in Harris County. During a three-day trial, the Wolfs argued that because of the robo-signing, their mortgage was never transferred to Wells Fargo and that the bank and a mortgage service company had violated a Texas statute barring the filing of fraudulent documents about real property interests.

    As they had successfully done in federal court, the defendants denied the allegations and argued that the Wolfs didn't have standing. Peter Smart, a partner in Houston's Crain, Caton & James, who represents Wells Fargo and the mortgage services company, did not return a call for this story.

    In its verdict, the jury found that the transfer of the lien was void and awarded $5 million punitive damages and nearly $400,000 in actual damages and attorney fees.

    At trial, Hughes said the biggest challenge was countering arguments made by the defense that his clients had not paid their mortgage since 2009 and were simply looking for free housing. Hughes had an exhibit to counter that, a letter he wrote to the bank's lawyer in 2012 asking to establish a escrow account in which the Wolfs could pay a mortgage. The bank's lawyer never responded to the offer, and Hughes made sure that the jury knew that. "This has been a long battle and a long road," said Hughes.

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