With no legal training, Zeenat Ali, 23, has been doing battle in court, winning judgments against the bank and two other companies mainly on procedural grounds.
As foreclosure fights rage in the nation’s courts, the battle over Shahida and Ather Ali’s house in Diamond Bar looks like a classic mismatch.
In one corner, weighing in at $2.5 trillion in assets, sits Deutsche Bank, which is attempting to evict the Alis from their home of 24 years.
In the other is Zeenat Ali, the couple’s diminutive 23-year-old daughter, who dropped out of medical school and sued Deutsche Bank after it foreclosed on the property. Hoping to reclaim title for her parents, Ali has spent half a year litigating in state and federal courts without the help of a lawyer. And though she has no formal legal training, the soft-voiced, 120-pound bantam is more than holding her own.
Using online legal filings as models, she has staved off the eviction and even turned the tables, winning judgments that enabled her to seek $1.7 billion from Deutsche Bank and two other financial firms involved in the deal, Downey Savings and Central Mortgage Co. All three declined to comment on her suit, filed in March in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pomona. It accuses them of fraud, botching foreclosure paperwork and violating laws requiring lenders to seek alternatives before they put delinquent borrowers out on the street.
Ali’s victories so far have been mainly procedural. Experts say she stands little chance of winning a large damage award. And her parents are likely to lose their home.
Still, legal veterans have been impressed by the smarts and tenacity of the neophyte with the long dark hair and the focused gaze. Ali’s occasionally wavering voice belies exacting preparation and a formidable resolve.
The banks have learned not to underestimate her. In a challenge to her budding legal skills, they sought in May to move her lawsuit to federal court in Los Angeles, where they thought they’d have an easier go of it. Ali responded with 170 pages of legal filings. After reviewing them, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess sided with Ali and last month sent the case back to Pomona Superior.
It was a victory that Elizabeth Mann, chairwoman of the executive committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.’s litigation section, called “remarkable.”
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