Foreclosure lawyer disbarred for 'loudly lecturing' judge and keeping settlement offers secret
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Updated: A Florida foreclosure lawyer has lost his law license for his belligerent conduct in the courtroom and his failure to communicate settlement offers with two clients, including a woman who nearly lost her home because of his conduct.
According to the referee’s report, Stopa not only failed to communicate settlement offers, he also acted in “a disrespectful, disruptive and belligerent manner” before two Florida judges in separate cases.
Stopa’s actions in one case included “loudly lecturing the judge and opposing counsel on procedure, throwing his arms up when the judge ruled contrary to [his] wishes, arguing with the judge on multiple occasions, and turning his back on the judge to make a proffer on the record after the judge ruled against him,” the report said.
In the other case, Stopa made statements impugning the judge’s character and “had several loud outbursts in the courtroom,” according to the report.
In one of women’s cases, Stopa was hired by a foreclosure client who wanted to remain in her home as long as possible. The case was set for trial after Stopa missed a deadline in July 2014 to file an answer, according to the referee’s report.
Bank of America offered a $15,000 “cash for keys” settlement or a loan modification that cut the amount owed by $200,000 and lowered the interest rate. The loan modification required three monthly trial payments before the bank would accept.
Stopa told his client only about the “cash for keys” settlement in which the client would be paid to vacate the home. Stopa, however, told the client the amount offered was $11,000. He intended to keep $4,000 as a fee, though the client had just paid $3,500 for a trial that wouldn’t be held, the referee said.
The client fired Stopa’s firm after it failed to respond to her requests for information about the settlement agreement. The bank then began communicating directly with the client. When she learned of the loan modification offer, she worked out a new deal with the bank.
Stopa had said he didn’t notify the client about the loan modification offer because she had previously said she was not in a financial position to continue her loan.
In the second case, a client hired Stopa because she believed representation was needed to negotiate a loan modification with Wells Fargo. The client was unable to reach Stopa to speak with him, and a trial was scheduled.
A representative from Stopa’s firm told the client he wouldn’t represent her at trial unless she brought a $3,500 check to his office, according to the report. The representative told the client there is “no free lunch.”
Unbeknownst to the client, Stopa and another lawyer negotiated a “cash for keys” payment of $1,500 to his firm and an agreement to extend the foreclosure by 60 days. Stopa settled the case without informing his client, the referee said.
The client learned of the trial date after an acquaintance saw her name on the court docket, and a retired judge who was a friend found the date and courtroom location. When the client called Stopa’s firm, staff told her she didn’t need to go to the trial, despite a written court order requiring her presence. The client showed up for the trial and learned of the settlement. Stopa did not attend. The client advised the judge that she rejected the agreement.
The client fired Stopa and negotiated directly with Wells Fargo. She obtained a longer period to remain in her home than Stopa had negotiated.
The bar noted that the ethics hearing was filled with clients of Stopa’s who wanted to tell the referee how much Stopa had helped them. One disabled client received free representation and a job from Stopa. There was also testimony about his contest to give away a home to the neediest applicant.
Stopa had testified he intensely feels the stress of representing so many clients who are relying on him to keep their homes. The referee who heard the ethics case and observed Stopa concluded he was experiencing emotional difficulties.
Those difficulties were demonstrated in several statements Stopa posted on his Facebook page that were critical of the proceedings, the report said.
They included statements about a “conspiracy to take me down” and a vow to share the details in an upcoming tell-all book.
The referee had recommended a one-year suspension and one year of mental health therapy.
Stopa claims to have represented more than 7,000 clients facing foreclosure, according to prior coverage by the Tampa Bay Times.
Stopa tells the ABA Journal that he intentionally defaulted and stipulated to permanent disbarment because he no longer trusted the court system.
Stopa alleges that the banking industry hired private investigators to make unsworn grievances against him because he won so much. The dossier was circulated to the Florida Bar and judges, he alleged.
“I won 2,000 foreclosure cases in Florida where no one else has 200,” he said. “I was the best at it by a lot.”
Stopa says the judiciary was being pressured to push foreclosure cases through the system quickly “as a factory for the benefit of banks.” Judges felt the pressure, he alleged, because Florida lawmakers had suggested tying pay to quicker action on foreclosure cases.
Stopa points to testimony by a judge in his ethics hearing who said there was talk of judges receiving bonuses based on their rate of case closures.
“This is the banks buying our judges and the court system capitulating to it,” Stopa says.
Stopa also says the judiciary feared a book that he had talked about writing over the years. It has now been published. Included in the book are transcripts from his ethics case and his research on judicial disclosures, which he deems to be inadequate.
Stopa says a majority of appellate level judges listed retirement or stock accounts without disclosing the individual stock owned. He also alleges that some appellate-level judges have adjudicated statute-of-limitations cases favoring banks even though they owned bank stock.
“As I began exposing their corruption, the system latched onto anonymous, unsworn allegations manufactured by banking industry private investigators in an effort to take me out because I won so often on behalf of Florida consumers,” Stopa says.
Updated Nov. 8 at 9:43 a.m. to include comments from Stopa.