Legal Ethics

Head of Fla. Foreclosure Mill Firm Agrees to Shut Down Law Practice

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The head of one of Florida’s well-known so-called foreclosure mill law firms has agreed to state bar discipline that will require him to close down his law office.

Marshall C. Watson has also agreed to a 91-day suspension, which will require approval by the state supreme court before he can be readmitted to practice, the Palm Beach Post’s Real Time blog reports.

The consent judgment, which must be approved by the state supreme court before it takes effect, says Marshall did not properly supervise his law firm employees and failed “to develop, implement and maintain acceptable policies and operating practices for his firm,” the newspaper reports.

Among other issues, the document says a Watson attorney was paid $1 for each of the 150,000 affidavits in which the lawyer said he had reviewed and attested to the reasonableness of fees charged. However, at least some of the affidavits weren’t signed in the presence of a notary, as they were supposed to be, and “in numerous instances” the lawyer was given only the affidavit’s final page to sign, the Post recounts.

Such “robo-signing” practices were reportedly widespread throughout the country during the deluge of foreclosures that followed the mortgage meltdown of recent years, and Florida, which had more foreclosures than most states, drew criticism over the pace at which such cases were processed, both by law firms and by the courts that oversaw them.

At the height of the foreclosure crisis in 2009, the Watson firm had 66,000 cases, 71 lawyers and nearly 600 support staff, the bar’s consent judgment says.

“This crisis is the lowest point in the Florida Bar’s history,” attorney Roy Oppenheim, who defends homeowners in such cases, said of the way foreclosures have been handled in the state in recent years. “The fact that the Bar is recognizing this is a catharsis and a healing process. It requires all of us to look in the mirror.”

The newspaper says further legal ethics cases over foreclosure abuses are likely. The agreed action against Watson, according to the Post, may be the first such punishment of any lawyer in the state.

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