And it says something about my current level of cynicism that a story about a person doing his or her job properly is enough to make me consider them heroic, but there it is--Judge Arthur Schack. Why is he a hero? Because he makes the powerful do the work they're supposed to before they stomp on the powerless.
Justice Schack, like a handful of state and federal judges, has taken a magnifying glass to the mortgage industry. In the gilded haste of the past decade, bankers handed out millions of mortgages — with terms good, bad and exotically ugly — then repackaged those loans for sale to investors from Connecticut to Singapore. Sloppiness reigned. So many papers have been lost, signatures misplaced and documents dated inaccurately that it is often not clear which bank owns the mortgage.Notice--Judge Schack isn't stopping legitimate foreclosures. He's not ruling against banks for specious reasons. He's stopping companies from grabbing what they can't prove they have a right to. He's doing his job.
Justice Schack’s take is straightforward, and sends a tremor through some bank suites: If a bank cannot prove ownership, it cannot foreclose.
“If you are going to take away someone’s house, everything should be legal and correct,” he said. “I’m a strange guy — I don’t want to put a family on the street unless it’s legitimate.”
But his job involves tedious paperwork, reams of it, and of the sort which a less dedicated person might push off on a clerk, or simply glance at and sign off on. After all, the power differential couldn't be greater here--banks, with loads of lawyers on staff versus homeowners who very often don't even show up because they can't afford legal representation, and because they feel they don't have a chance. Why not just wave the paperwork through and give the banks what they want?
“To the extent that judges examine these papers, they find exactly the same errors that Judge Schack does,” said Katherine M. Porter, a visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a national expert in consumer credit law. “His rulings are hardly revolutionary; it’s unusual only because we so rarely hold large corporations to the rules.”Have we really gotten to the point where heroes are people who just do their jobs everyday? I hope not, but it sure feels that way sometimes.