Posted 10:20 AM 02/01/11
Two of my biggest concerns about the mortgage mess involve the conduct of lawyers at every stage, from creating the toxic securities to foreclosing on homes, and that so far the major players haven’t been held accountable for their actions in creating the crisis. Both concerns are neatly encapsulated by an enforcement action taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of last week.
On Friday, the SEC announced it is taking administrative action against David M. Tamman, a partner at Greenberg Traurig, a major international law firm. (Or at least, he was a partner: His page on the firm’s website has been removed.) The SEC is going after Tamman because it says he falsified a document that described securities he helped a client sell. That is, when the SEC asked Tamman for copies, it says he altered the real document and gave the SEC the fake.
While that conduct is egregious — and kudos to the SEC for going after him — it’s not that different than the ways many, many lawyers have behaved throughout this documentation debacle. For example, attorneys for multiple banks have been giving courts fraudulent documents in order to speed foreclosures, in many cases “robo-signing” the documents themselves. And consider the magnitude of the carelessness — it seems at least like malpractice to me — employed by the big firms involved in the securitization deals.
How Did Thousands of Lawyers Miss the Problems?
The Ibanez decision in Massachusetts exposed the fact that the standard securitization deal violated a century of Massachusetts real estate law, and recently filed lawsuits against JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) hint at how far astray the big law firms went. And not just one firm — the scale of the problems alleged in those cases suggest the problem was systemic.