Florida Judge Quashes AG’s Attack on Foreclosure Firm

Even though a Florida judge says it does not have to, a law firm that the state’s attorney general’s office is going after for alleged foreclosure malfeasance is willing to discuss its practices with them.

The Palm Beach County, Fla., judge, Jack Cox, has ruled attorney general Bill McCollum’s office overstepped its authority when issuing a subpoena to examine the foreclosure practices of the Shapiro & Fishman law firm.

The order notes the subpoena states the investigation was to cover “possible unfair and deceptive trade practices which involve the advertising and marketing practices.” But that subpoena, issued in August, did not request documents related to advertising and marketing but rather those related to legal representation of lenders in foreclosures as well as to the internal operations of Shapiro.

The attorney who represented Shapiro, Gerald Richman of the law firm of Richman Greer PA, said that firm has over 100 lawyers and 400 employees and the major part of its business for over 20 years is foreclosures, where it represents many of the major servicers.

When it first got the subpoena, it called the attorney general’s office and said it put out a press release that was blatantly misleading and it needed to be modified. They also asked for a meeting.

At the meeting, Richman said the attorney general’s representatives agreed to give Shapiro a letter to modify its request for documents, and would provide the law firm with specific complaints from consumers regarding its practices. But the AG’s office never did.

Richman said Shapiro is willing to work with the attorney general’s office and provide it reasonable information and a response to any specific complaints.

There might have been some mistakes that have been made, but Shapiro is willing to deal with any complaint that exists, he reiterated.

Lacking any action from the attorney general’s office, the Shapiro firm and its attorneys continued their move to have the subpoena quashed.

Part of the motivation for the press release might have been political, Richman speculated. McCollum was running what would turn out to be a failed campaign for the Republican nomination for governor and the primary was coming up.

In his ruling, Judge Cox says McCollum does not have the power to investigate or discipline alleged malfeasance by a law firm in the practice of law. The Florida Supreme Court holds that power under state law.

Furthermore, the judge termed the subpoena “overbroad, vague, inconsistent and unduly burdensome,” and that it is “highly unlikely to reveal actionable conduct on the part of the Shapiro firm.”

Richman added McCollum had claimed Shapiro was taken shortcuts. That was not true; the firm was holding to federal guidelines on the timing of the process.

In a statement, Ryan Wiggins, acting communications director for McCollum, said, “Our attorneys are discussing our options, including whether or not we will appeal the judges ruling.”

Besides Shapiro, two other firms were mentioned in the same release: the law offices of Marshall C. Watson and the law offices of David J. Stern. However, only Shapiro sought to quash the subpoena, Richman said.