Lisa Epstein, the foreclosure fighter who gained national recognition for her research and discovery, attempts to pull off an upset on Tuesday in the race for Clerk of Court in Palm Beach County. This is the equivalent of a register of deeds, the official who records mortgage transfer documents in counties across the country. Epstein is running in the Democratic primary against Sharon Bock, a longtime incumbent who has done little of note in highlighting the fraudulent documents rolling into her office, in one of the key areas in the country for the foreclosure crisis. With no other candidates on the ballot, this primary race will decide the next Clerk of Court. All voters in Palm Beach County can participate in the election.
The crisis in Florida is far from over. To pull out a representative sample, here’s another head-scratcher of a case that speaks to how documentation on residential mortgages in this country remains a mess:
Deloris Bell sold her house in 1995, so she was shocked when in March a bank filed for foreclosure on the house and named her in the lawsuit.
She said she called the attorney’s office handing the foreclosure and was told not to worry.
“I called and the guy said, ‘It’s just an error, just file for a new deed, and we’ll correct it and take your name out of the paperwork,’” Bell said.
Bell called her title company and filed for the new deed right away. But two months later, more court filings showed up, and her name was still listed as a defendant. The attorney’s office again said it was an oversight.
“He said, ‘Oh, not a problem, I see it right here, it’s on the computer, it’s been corrected. We’ll take your name off,’” Bell said.
That was in June, but her name was still on the lawsuit.
This shows how the crisis can affect literally everyone in the country, whether you have a mortgage or not. More importantly, it speaks to the horror of mortgage and title documentation in America, a systemic problem that has not at all been solved by various settlements and consent decrees.
This is the issue that Epstein has focused on like a laser over the past several years. A former cancer nurse who faced foreclosure, Epstein transformed herself into one of the leading experts on foreclosure fraud in the nation. At her campaign site she vows to hold bailed-out banks accountable for the public records nightmare they forced on Palm Beach County, and the economic damage that went along with it.
Registers of deeds, who hold in their offices evidence of systemic crimes, can play a valuable role in fighting foreclosure fraud, especially since virtually every other public official in America has taken themselves off the playing field. Registers across the country have published reports showing widespread falsified and forged documents, sued banks and mortgage giants like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for trying to sidestep mortgage transfer fees (evading billions of dollars in taxes), and raised awareness of the ongoing problems in the American land title system and US property rights. Here’s part of an interview with Epstein:
Once the pervasive fraud was uncovered, she believed that there would be more than just congressional hearings, consent orders and settlements. “I thought there would be some sustainable solution to keep millions of families in their homes, and there isn’t, there really isn’t,” she said.
Epstein also thought representatives would implement policies to protect families within their constituency, but found resistance at state and county levels. “We saw our attorney general fire the foreclosure fraud investigators, so, I decided I would throw my hat in the ring and run for a position [where] I wasn’t just a citizen advocate,” she said.
Epstein said she chose to run for county clerk because one of that office’s main duties is safeguarding the integrity of the public records. “The financial services industry has filed what we know are tens of thousands of records in our own county that are forged, fraudulent or fabricated — a crime in Florida statute, and it affects our property rights,” she said.
Epstein said it also affects title integrity for people far outside the foreclosure crisis. “It affects our ability to have faith in conveyance of real estate for decades,” she said.
I also did an interview with Epstein back in April.
Epstein has been endorsed by former SIGTARP Neil Barofsky, once and future Congressman Alan Grayson, and financial blogger Yves Smith. The local party tried very diligently to push Epstein out of the race, but she refused to stand down.
It will be a low turnout election. More information, including volunteer opportunities, available here.