Journalists on Crack: Are Lawyers Turning to Crime in Tough Times?
Thatās a real headline written by a real journalist and published in a real newspaper on January 23, 2010.Ā I swear to God.Ā Not the ājournalists on crackā part, Iām talking about the āLawyers Turn to Crime in Tough Timesā part.
A woman named Barbara Anderson wrote it.Ā Sheās a reporter, and I use that term as loosely as could be conceived, for the Fresno Bee.Ā Okay, I knowā¦ itās not The New York Times, but it is the newspaper that covers the Central Valley of the largest state in the union, California.Ā So, itās not just a nothing newspaper either.Ā The sheer beauty of Barbaraās article is that the headline is only the tip of the stupidity iceberg, but itās not entirely her doingā¦ she had helpā¦ at least half the credit has to go to the California State Bar and its president, Howard Miller.
Hereās how the article kicks things offā¦
The recession has driven an increasing number of California lawyers to cheat and steal, say State Bar officials, who expect to discipline or expel hundreds of them in coming months.
Financial pressures are behind the increase in lawyer wrongdoing, they say. Complaints are coming from clients who say their lawyers illegally withheld settlement money or charged them for work they didn’t do — especially those who promised help modifying mortgages.
Okay, so letās skip over the illegal withholding of settlement money and the charging for work never done, and head directly for the real point of the article: promising to help people with their mortgages, or more specifically to help get their mortgages modified.Ā Because thatās the real deal here, right?Ā The author doesnāt really give a hoot about a lawyer absconding with someoneās settlement money, what she wants is someone who has lost their homeā¦ and is willing to lay the blame for that travesty on an attorney.Ā Thatās the juice, right?Ā Who doesnāt love tearing into a lawyer even during the best of times?
How do you know a lawyerās lying?Ā His lips are moving.Ā What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?Ā A good start.Ā And how about this one: Whom do you call when you want someone to protect your rights?Ā Or youāve been injured as a result of someoneās negligence?Ā Or youāre being screwed to the wall by a bank and you donāt know where to turn?Ā A lawyer.Ā Hahahahahahaā¦heehehehehee, my cheeks hurt.
Next in Barbaraās article, she found a lawyer named Carol Langford, who defends other lawyers when the State Bar brings them up on some sort of charge.
This recession has been especially hard on lawyers, said Carol Langford, a San Francisco lawyer who defends lawyers before the California State Bar Court in disbarment cases.Ā In past downturns, lawyers were among the last professionals affected because clients usually put a priority on paying legal bills, Langford said. But not this time. Now everyone is āwaiting until the very last minute to pay a lawyer,ā she said.
This recession has been especially hard on lawyers?Ā Oh my God, the poor lawyersā¦ I had no idea.Ā Are there lawyers standing on street corners holding signs that say āWill litigate for foodā?Ā If I see one like that, Iām going to pull over and sue somebody just to do my part to keep our litigious society humming along, donāt you know.
And, āin past downturns, lawyers were among the last professionals affected because clients usually put a priority on paying legal bills?āĀ Iād like to see some data backing up that statement, wouldnāt you?Ā Ah, never mind, Iām probably being too picky.Ā Roll with it, Mandelman, just roll with it.
Then Langford says:
āAlong with losing clients, lawyers have lost money in the stock market and lost value in their homes — assets that could have kept them going until the economy turned around, Langford said.ā
Lawyers have lost money on their homes AND in the stock market?Ā Really?Ā Why I never.Ā Lost money in the market AND in the house?Ā Why thatās a double whammy.Ā Oh well, to heck with the law degreeā¦ might as well turn to a life a crime.
So, although this is fun and all, it really isnāt my point about Barbaraās article.Ā My point is that her facts are so incredibly contradictory and her argument so abundantly preposterous, that she should be forced to spend the next three years going door to door to the Fresno Beeās subscribers apologizing for the idiocy she has perpetrated upon the citizens of Fresno and the surrounding areas.Ā As to the State Barās complicity, wellā¦ Iām not even sure how to characterize that, except to say that itās sad.
And away we goā¦ stay with me for another minuteā¦ itāll be worth it.
Barbaraās numbersā¦ the meat of her storyā¦ start out with her stating that the State Bar is āinvestigating more than 300 California lawyers involved in loan modification rip-offs,ā which is just one of the strangest sentences Iāve ever had the displeasure to come across.Ā I mean, no one is in favor of lawyers scamming people, but if we already know that theyāve been involved in ārip-offs,ā why are we still āinvestigatingā them?Ā Shouldnāt we have already charged and convicted them?Ā Barbara hasā¦ what are we waiting for?
Then Barbara says that, āTypically, homeowners facing foreclosure complain that they paid attorneys who then did nothing to help them keep their homes.āĀ Thatās what homeowners ātypicallyā say?Ā Iām not sure who Barbara typically talks to, but I know I talk to a few hundred homeowners who have been, or are in financial trouble related to their mortgage, and Iād say the number who say that they paid a lawyer who did nothing to help them keep their home would be maybe one out of a hundred.
And just so Iām clear, how does paying a lawyer make someone lose their home?Ā Hell, according to the State Bar, the Attorney General, the federal government, the President of the United States, and every single bank or mortgage servicer in the country, you donāt even need a lawyer to get your loan modifiedā¦ you can just call your bank directly or dial 1-800-HUDCOUNSELOR.
So, how in the world could you lose your home as a result of paying a lawyer?Ā These days, and especially in and around Fresno, it takes the bank a year or more before they get around to foreclosing and kicking you out.Ā When you noticed that the lawyer you paid wasnāt lifting a finger to help you, why wouldnāt you just have called your bank directly or walked into a HUD counselor?Ā It doesnāt make senseā¦ am I missing something?Ā I paid a contractor $2500 once and he never came back but I didnāt lose my home as a result.
Now, if you told me that you paid a bank several thousand a month for six months and the bank didnāt do anything to help you save your home, now that Iād have no trouble believing.Ā And THAT truly IS what homeowners āTYPICALLYā do say.Ā In fact, I could get you a line of homeowners from Fresno to whatever planet Barbara lives on that would say that about their bank.
Barbaraās got more numbers, and they get better and betterā¦ she says:
āIn 2008, before the flood of loan-modification cases, the state disciplined 469 of the state’s 206,165 lawyers. Of those, 245 were suspended from practicing law and 57 were disbarred. The disciplinary figures for last year have not been released, but āwe anticipate seeing very different numbers in 2009,ā said Etzel Berrio, special assistant to the bar’s chief trial counsel.ā
Okay, stop.Ā Hold everything.Ā Before the āflood of loan modification cases, the state disciplined 469 of the 206,165 lawyers?āĀ Thatās .002 percent.Ā Thatās two one thousandths of one percent.Ā And of those, only 245, or .001 percent, were suspended and 57, or .00027 percent, were disbarredā¦ thatās two ten thousandths of one percent that were disbarred?
And thenā¦ the disciplinary figures for 2009 have not been released, but the special assistant to the Barās chief trial counsel says that they expect to see very different numbers?
Didnāt Barbara say, just a few paragraphs ago, that the Bar is āinvestigating more than 300 California lawyers involved in loan modification rip-offs?ā Iām almost positive that I was just making fun of that incredibly unconstitutional sentence just recently.Ā But she also said that in 2008 there were 469 lawyers disciplined, and only 245 suspended, and 57 disbarred.Ā That adds up to 302 bad lawyers.
So, when the special assistant to the chief trial counsel said that he expects to see āvery different numbers,ā did he mean that theyād be very-different-smaller?Ā Iām not trying to be a smart ass, Iāve just never been that comfortable with numbersā¦. I mean, with stupid numbers.Ā Intelligent numbers I have no trouble understanding.
And what the heck happened to the 167 lawyers that were part of the 469 that were disciplined in 2008, but werenāt among the 302 that were suspended or disbarred?Ā How exactly were they disciplined?Ā Were they spanked, because if thatās the case, Iād consider going pay-per-view in ā09.
And whatās the hold up with releasing the 2009 numbers, President Miller?Ā Barbaraās article came out on January 23rd, which is three full weeks into 2010.Ā Donāt you have anyone that can count to three hundred in less than three weeks over at the California State Bar, Mr. Miller?
Oh, waitā¦ maybe thatās why Governor Schwartzy refused to sign the bill that would have allowed you to collect dues from your 206,165 members.Ā I apologize, Mr. Miller.Ā You guys at the State Bar should take all the time you need to do the counting.Ā In fact, if you need help, Iāll volunteer my time two days a week in the afternoons.
What kind of crap is going on with journalism in this country?Ā Itās not just in Fresno either.Ā Itās everywhere.Ā I realize Californiaās schools arenāt turning out many Mensa members these days, and I can tell by the stateās fabulous track record in budget management that weāre not exactly in line to put āThe Math Stateā on our license states, but seriously?
Iāve read every single article that the State Bar has obviously pushed into the press and not one of them has made any sense whatsoever.Ā I realize that most attorneys think 2 + 2 = 6, because Iāve hired quite a few over the years and thatās how they calculate their billable hours, but isnāt there a tax attorney hiding over at the State Bar somewhere?Ā Maybe Iāll send President Miller one of those calculators they have at Brookstone in the mallā¦ you know, the ones with the really huge keys that talk.
Then Barbara quoted President Howard Miller:
“It’s the most disturbing thing I’ve seen in the legal profession practicing for more than half a century.ā
Assuming heās talking about the inability of the State Bar to back up their claim that there are ālawyers turning to crime in hard times,ā as the articleās headline clearly states, or if heās as shocked as I am that clearly no one at the State Bar can count to ten without helpā¦ then maybe I was wrong about Miller.Ā If, on the other hand, he means that the number of lawyers turning to crime is āthe most disturbing thing heās seen in the legal professionā in 50 yearsā¦ well, in that caseā¦ heās simply got a beautiful mind.
Then Barbara pulls a new number directly from her bum, saying:
āThe State Bar is investigating 1,200 loan-modification cases.ā
From where has that number come?Ā Itās a simple formula, really.Ā You take the 302 cases, multiply by the square root of Millerās I.Q. and then subtract 8.Ā I donāt have any idea where that number comes from and apparently neither does Barbara Anderson.Ā Does the Fresno Bee even employ a copy editor?
And, oh goodieā¦ Barbaraās got even more numbers to offer usā¦ she just wonāt stopā¦ go Babs!
As of mid-January, the State Bar had resignations from 13 lawyers, and three trials were pending at the State Bar Court, Layton said. Settlements have been reached with lawyers in five cases to accept discipline, he said.
What?Ā 13 resignations, 3 trials pending, settlements reached with 5 who have agreed to (thank-you-Sir-may-I-have-another) accept discipline?āĀ How many is that?Ā Letās seeā¦ hmmmā¦ 21ā¦ assuming no duplicates in there, which Iād bet money is not the case.Ā 21 LAWYERS OUT OF 206,165 THOROUGHOUT CALIFORNIA?
Thatās .0001 percentā¦ ONE TEN THOUSANDTHS OF ONE PERCENT?Ā Oh for Christās sake Miller, donāt you have anything better to do than to scare people out of hiring a lawyer when at risk of losing their home?Ā Because thatās all this kind of crap is accomplishing, donāt you realize that?
You make people believe that thereās a lawyer on every corner waiting to scam a homeowner out of some relatively paltry amount of money, when in factā¦ by your own numbers, the chances of being scammed by a lawyer in California are somewhere between the odds of finding a four-leaf clover on your first tryā¦ one in ten thousandā¦ and the odds of being killed sometime in the next year in any sort of transportation accident, one in 77.Ā (Iām not kidding about this, check the odds yourself here.)
Barbara goes on (although I canāt imagine why) to say that there was apparently hope that loan modification complaints would ādwindleā as a result of the governor signing SB 94, which made it illegal for attorneys to accept advance payments from homeowners.Ā Barbara says that the complaints just keep on coming, although the State Bar probably canāt count them either, because they didnāt offer anything in the way of actual numbers.
As proof of Barbaraās theory that the complaints havenāt stopped, she quotes an attorney she calls āLaytonā who says her answering machine is full every day, but she must mean āLangford,ā the attorney she quoted earlierā¦ the one that defends lawyers accused of wrongdoing.
Either that, or she knows an attorney named Layton who has a full answering machine every day but itās unclear as to the cause.Ā Barbara is a real stickler for details, arenāt you Babs?
The rest of the article is complete a waste of time, which is quite a distinction when you consider how unproductive you feel after reading the first half of the article.Ā Langford talks about an āuptickā in the number of lawyers accused of mishandling trust funds, which seems also to be based on data collected from her answering machine.
Finally, Barbara wraps up her piece with a couple of gems from Howard Miller.Ā First he says that his office is aggressively pursuing cases against lawyers.Ā Then he closes out this stellar interview with:
1. āWhat has occurred is a violation of every responsibility that lawyers owe their clients.ā
2. “This is a tough economy for lawyers, as it is a very tough economy for everyone. But when it comes to the actions of lawyers who prey on clients, there’s no excuse or explanation.”
Yeah, in this kind of economy, as long as youāre not an attorney, if you prey on homeowners it may still be wrong, but at least Mr. Miller can come up with a bunch of excuses and explanations.Ā Is that what he was trying to say there?Ā I canāt figure it out anymoreā¦ in fact, this entire experience of trying to follow whatever the State Bar is doing with its kinky sounding disciplinary actions has caused me to need to lie down.
Wake me up though, if anyone at the State Bar, the AGās office, the DRE, or anyone at the federal level starts making sense when talking about loan modifications.
I wouldnāt want to miss that.