Foreclosure filings, lawyers ordered to cross T’s, dot I’s.

Receiving foreclosure notices and cannot afford an attorney? Contact the Save the Dream Ohio Foreclosure Prevention Effort: 888-404-4674

I read John Futty‘s article in The Dispatch this morning about the Order of three Franklin County judges requiring lawyers to verify that all of the documents in residential foreclosure actions are valid.  This comes in response to a national outcry over fraudulent foreclosure filings.  Futty writes: “Six of the lawyers affected by the order are fighting back. They have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to prohibit the judges from requiring them to sign “certifications” on behalf of their clients.”

Common Pleas Judges John F. Bender, Kimberly Cocroft and Guy Reece have issued this Order and are the subject of the suit.  Apparently, Judges Laurel Beatty and David Fais were ready to issue the same Order, but are waiting to see the outcome of the suit.

Cleveland attorney John C. Greiner is representing the six lawyers that filed the lawsuit that, according to Futty’s article, claims the Order will require them to divulge confidential attorney-client privileged information.

What I find interesting is that a Cleveland lawyer, Greiner, is bringing this suit when his home County of Cuyahoga has required foreclosing attorneys to sign a “Certificate of Readiness” since at least 2004.

And, really, what’s the problem with the Certificate of Readiness?  I’m not sure what the Franklin County Judges are ordering, but I imagine it is something similar to Cuyahoga County’s Certificate of Readiness.  If it is, no privileged information is sought and, instead, it is more like having to turn in your High School algebra homework where you have to “show you work” – proving that you applied the correct equations to reach your answer.

If you haven’t gathered this already, I have not read the Franklin County Judge’s Order.  This post is simply a reacton to John Futty’s article from the perspective of a lawyer who knows this system well.

At the end of the day, there are two lessons to be learned.  (1)  Lawyers should check their work and the current economic climate and “factory produced foreclosures” give credence to the Order and, (2) Administrative Judge Charles C. Schneider is right that the Order is redundant because Civil Rule 11 already requires lawyers to check their work.  The fact that the two lessons oppose one another begs the question: if all foreclosure attorneys are checking their work, then why does Cuyahoga County have the Certificate of Readiness and why are Franklin County Judges creating their own Orders on this topic?

You can read John Futty’s article, here, and you can consider whether the foreclosure process is spinning out of control.

Supreme Court OK’s Judge’s use of facebook / twitter

You can "like" me now!

On December 3, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline issued an advisory opinion saying that Ohio Judges can have facebook friends and twitter followers that are also attorneys appearing before them in Court.  The Supreme Court’s website issued this release:

In one of the most comprehensive and detailed examinations in the nation, the Supreme Court of Ohio’s disciplinary board has issued an advisory opinion examining the ethical implications of judges using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The opinion from the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline advises judges that social media use is permitted but must be done with caution, and it offers wide ranging, specific guidance to judges on how to navigate the new waters of social media without violating judicial canons that require judges to avoid even the appearance of bias or impropriety.

“This is a topic of great interest to the legal community because, like the rest of the nation, more judges are experimenting with social media in both their personal and professional lives,” said Jon Marshall, the board’s secretary. “For those judges who choose to use this technology, we hope this opinion gives them practical guidance on how to do so and maintain their obligations under the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

A recent national study found that 40 percent of judges report using social media profile sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, a proportion roughly equal to that in the general U.S. adult population. Smaller numbers reported using microblogging sites like Twitter and other less popular social media, but the numbers are expected to grow.

Opinion 2010-7 finds that a judge may be a “friend” on a social networking site with a lawyer who appears as counsel in a case before the judge, but cautions: “As with any other action a judge takes, a judge’s participation on a social networking site must be done carefully in order to comply with the ethical rules in the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

Some very logical restrictions include that (1) a  judge may not give anyone legal advice through social media sites, (2) judges may not comment on matters pending before the judge, and (3) judges cannot communicate with an attorney appearing before the judge about the matter.  The advisory opinion goes on to say that a judge should disqualify herself from a proceeding if her social media relationship with a lawyer on that case creates bias or prejudice.  All very fair rules and it demonstrates the pervasive qualities of social media and that, like it or not, it is here to stay.

You can find the entire advisory opinion here.

Thomas Parenteau could not save himself – surprised?

"Fee-fi-fo fum," benching your lawyer is pretty dumb.

Back in June, I wrote this post about the Thomas Parenteau trial where Parenteau (not a lawyer) was representing himself against 13 federal charges in a multi-million dollar fraud scam.  I discussed what a bad idea that was.  As it turns out, the jury convicted Parenteau of 11 of the 13 charges against him.  Parenteau was acquitted of two money-laundering charges.  I guess he left the stolen money dirty and maybe that’s why he was caught in the first place.

Parenteau was convicted on 11 counts including wire fraud, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering.

I am a firm believer that criminals should pay the price for their crimes and should not “get off easy.”  That belief stands whether you are a starlett like Lindsay Lohan who is getting jail time for violating probation or a less-well-known real estate scammer like Thomas Parenteau.  However, one big difference is that Ms. Lohan was represented by an attorney who will likely succeed in getting Lohan’s actual jail time reduced to a fraction of her sentence, while Mr. Parenteau’s ill-advised courtroom antics probably did nothing to help his cause.

According to Kathy Lynn Gray’s recent article in The Columbus Dispatch, the trial was expected to last six weeks.  It lasted two months and a lot of that extra time was a result of Parenteau’s decision to represent himself.

Trials are like traffic.  When the jury is taking in evidence like a nonstop cruise down I-71 at 65 MPH, the jurors are comfortable, attentive, and understanding.  But when the jury’s evidence show hits a traffic jam brought on by constant objections, improper questions, recesses, sidebars, and antics, the jurors become irritable, restless, fatigued, and annoyed.  You just want to lay on that horn and get the people in front of you moving to arrive at your destination.

The Parenteau trial was no cruise down I-71 with Parenteau’s appointed counsel locked in the trunk of the car.  Instead, Parenteau tells the jury “I’m an entrepreneur, not a criminal” and “fee-fi-fo-fum, the government says I am a cheap bum.”  Well, guess what?  Saying you’re an entrepreneur and and not a criminal is something I think Al Capone would say.  Spouting off “fee-fi-fo-fum” makes me think of an ogre, a bully – basically not someone with whom I want to be friends.  These statements do no paint a picture of a victim of circumstance or generate much sympathy.

I do not have any reason to believe that Parenteau was wrongfully convicted.  All evidence to the contrary.  But, competent legal counsel can mean the difference between life in prison and maybe seeing the dawn on an open field of freedom one day.

Parenteau will be sentenced in a few weeks.  If he has any appealable issues, I wonder if he’ll let his attorneys finally get involved.

Defending yourself in court: the quickest road to ruin.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Didn’t Jerry write an article a couple of months ago with tips on how to represent yourself in small claims court?  Yes, I did.  But there’s a big difference between $1,200 in damage to your car and a federal indictment for a bajillion counts of fraud.  Yes, bajillion is a highly technical legal term.

When I was clerking in the Franklin County Court System, I observed a murder trial where the defendant insisted on representing himself.  It reminded me of the courtroom scene from “Airplane 2” – it was just ridiculous.  The Judge was beyond irritated to the point where the Judge’s forehead vein was having a better time than the jury.  When you are on trial for your life, or in a civil trial that can affect your entire life, I firmly believe in the old adage that one who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.  I’m writing this post after reading John Futty’s article in today’s Columbus Dispatch about a man on trial for fraud.  He’s representing himself despite repeated warnings not to do so from the Judge, his court appointed attorneys, and probably every single person he has come across that knows about this case.  As someone who has tried several cases for clients and has observed a trial where an accused has represented himself, I can say with confidence that this will not end well for Thomas Parenteau.  For the Dispatch, Mr. Futty writes:

As Thomas Parenteau prepared for a second day of cross-examining his former mistress in a multimillion-dollar fraud case last week, he received a harsh critique from the federal judge handling his trial.

"I'm not a lawyer, but I play one in real life at a federal trial where I stand accused."

“You stepped on some land mines yesterday that wounded you pretty good,” Judge Michael H. Watson told Parenteau before bringing the jury into the courtroom for more testimony.

Watson urged Parenteau to reconsider his decision to represent himself, a recommendation he has made more than once since the jury trial began three weeks ago in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

Parenteau hasn’t taken the judge’s advice, insisting instead on exercising his constitutional right to handle his own defense.

A 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a defendant’s right to self-representation “has been the bane of judges and prosecutors,” said Joshua Dressler, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law who specializes in criminal law. Continue reading

Filling the shoes: Judge Eric Brown to be sworn in as the Chief Justice on Monday, May 3, 2010

Franklin County Probate Court Judge Eric Brown will be sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court on Monday.  This follows Brown’s appointment by Governor Strickland on April 14, 2010. 

The Ohio Supreme Court released the following news update yesterday:

The Honorable Eric Brown, Judge of the Franklin County Probate Court, will be sworn in on Monday as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio at a public ceremony at 11:30 a.m. at the Ohio Statehouse.

The event will include the administration of the oath of office by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer and remarks by Judge Brown.

On April 14, Gov. Ted Strickland named Judge Brown to the vacancy on the Supreme Court following the late Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer’s unexpected death on April 2.

What: Swearing-In Ceremony
When: 11:30 a.m., Monday, May 3, 2010
Where: Ohio Statehouse, North Hearing Room, Senate Annex

The ceremony will be broadcast live at www.sc.ohio.gov and on cable television via The Ohio Channel. Visit www.ohiochannel.org for channels and rebroadcast times.

Judge Brown is campaigning to retain this position in this fall’s election.  As referenced in our post on the passing of Chief Justice Tom Moyer, there are some very large shoes for Judge Brown to fill.  Here’s to the hope of Judge Brown maintaining order, justice, progress, and excellent administration as Moyer did.

How do you feel about the Governor’s appointment of Judge Brown?  Let us know in the comments.

On the passing of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer; 1939-2010

I had the privilege and honor of meeting the Chief on several occasions over the last fifteen years.  We were not close personal friends, but we knew each other and a mutual respect was in place.  Mine for him much, much greater in scope.  When I was sworn in as an attorney in 2002, I had the fortune to shake hands with the Chief (the new lawyers would only personally greet 1 of 3 Justices participating in the ceremony).  He pulled me close and whispered into my ear “Glad to see you made it, Jerry.”  Believe me, I was too.

The last time I saw the Chief was in the Charlotte, NC airport about two years ago.  We were both waiting for a connection back home to Columbus.  We chatted about his trip and mine, swapping stories and the casual smalltalk of the importance of family and hard work.  Had I known that I wasn’t going to see him again, I would have had a lot more to say and even more to ask.  I always presumed I would get to argue a case before him one day.  Now, when I enter the Supreme Court to argue, I will feel like there is one chair missing.

From day one of law school and now here, 11 years later, I always felt secure knowing Tom Moyer was at the helm of Ohio’s courts.  It always seemed that the Ohio community just felt good about the law, just felt good about its administration, and felt secure in knowing that the Rule of Law would prevail in Ohio with Chief Justice Moyer as Captain.

He had a grand presence about him without ego.   He was academic, certain, and steadfast in his logic.  He cared very deeply for the State of Ohio and it cared for him as well.  He has left the Court much better than he found it and my deepest concern is whether his successor will do the same.

I will miss Tom Moyer and whether consciously or not, so will the State of Ohio.