Tag Archives: quiet title

wrongful forecosure Other Jurisdictions

16 Mar

Other Jurisdictions

Contrary to California’s ruling in Gomes, a MERS has come under fire in Utah. In Harvey v. Garbett Mortgage, Utah 3rd Dist. Case No. 100907587 (2010) (unpublished) (Herinafter Harvey),  quiet title action resulted in a deed clear of any liens because the trustee, the legal title holder, did not have any idea who the beneficiary was, did not have physical possession of the mortgage note, and did not know whether a split of the note and trust deed occurred. The plaintiff quickly sold the property after the ruling, and thus has no interest in the land. The loan is now unsecured, and the plaintiff is still liable to the lender to pay the debt. An interesting procedural note about the Harvey case is that the plaintiff did not name MERS as a defendant in this case, even though MERS was the nominal beneficiary, because MERS did not have any actual interest in the property. However, this strategy would not be successful in California, because MERS has standing to foreclose, has a statutory created interest in the land, and a quiet title proceeding is final and binding only upon named defendants.

CONCLUSION:

In California, a quiet title action brought by a mortgage borrower in default against a lender will not result in free property. Courts quickly dismiss quiet title actions without any allegation of wrongful practice by the lender. However, a quiet title action in conjunction with a claim of wrongful foreclosure can allow a homeowner stay in their house for an extended period. A debtor in receipt of a notice of default must act quickly if they want to stay in their home. The first steps of filing a complaint and applying for an injunction require technical legal knowledge and sharpened persuasive ability; two characteristics that cannot be learned by the homeowner fast enough to prevent eviction. The homeowner should seek counsel from an experienced attorney regarding the possible benefits and costs of offensive legal action

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Foreclosure in California

16 Mar

925-957-9797

ISSUE:

Many Californians in default on their mortgage and facing foreclosure have filed quiet title and wrongful foreclosure actions. What is a quiet title action against a lender, and are plaintiffs successful in California?

BRIEF ANSWER:                                                                                                         

            A quiet title action in California to determine the owner of property does not generally allow a mortgage borrower in default on their payments to claim title to the land free of liens. However, the action when combined with a wrongful foreclosure claim is often successful in extending the amount of time a defaulted borrower can remain in the house. While in essence, this is simply prolonging the inevitable, it can give a borrower a temporary feeling of control over their own destiny.

DISCUSSION:

Quiet Title Actions as a Defense to Foreclosure

A cause of action to quiet title seeks to determine adverse claims to real or personal property. (Cal. Code Civ. § 760.020.) The action is commonly commenced by homeowners when a lender wrongfully forecloses on their property. My research has not found a favorable California decision quieting title in a mortgage borrower challenging foreclosure. The filing of quiet title actions only prolongs the amount of time a borrower can remain in a house after defaulting.

Theory behind the current suits

The UCC governs negotiable instruments such as mortgages, and it defines a loan as a transferable, signed document that promises to pay the bearer a sum of money at a future date or on demand. Most mortgages are made by investment banks, who then package many similar loans into a mortgage backed security and sell the securities. To convert the mortgages into stocks, each mortgage note must be destroyed. A mortgage and a stock certificate cannot exist at the same time. This creates a gap in the chain of title, and theoretically making the loan invalid. As a result, homeowners can fight foreclosure through a quiet title action and receive clear title. The current trend to argue a break in chain of title is weak, because a “plaintiff may recover only upon the strength of his or her own title, however, and not upon the weakness of the defendant’s title.” (Ernie v. Trinity Lutheran Church (1959) 51 Cal.2d 702, 706.)

A promissory note is usually secured by a deed of trust in the real property. The trust names the security owner as the beneficiary and a loan servicer as the trustee. A trust is a form of ownership in which the legal title of a property is vested in a trustee, who has equitable duties to hold and manage it for the benefit of the beneficiaries. (Restatement of Trusts, Second, §2 (1959).) The trustee under a valid trust deed has exclusive control over the trust property. Usually, the lender records a deed of trust with the county to secure the loan to the debtor. The deeds identify the trustee, and most often identify Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) as the nominal beneficiary.

Challenges to MERS

MERS is a company created by the banking industry to bypass recording statutes and filing fees. MERS records who currently owns the notes on a mortgage. A foreclosure may be brought in the name of MERS, and the trustee may act on behalf of MERS to effectuate a non-judicial foreclosure. MERS may also directly initiate a foreclosure proceeding, and California’s “statutory scheme (§§ 2924–2924k) does not provide for a preemptive suit challenging standing.” (Robinson v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., (2011) 199 Cal. App. 4th 42, 46.)

The MERS system of foreclosure has been upheld in California based upon two rationales. First, courts have held that MERS, acting as the agent of the beneficial owner, does not need to prove authorization by the beneficiary to foreclose. (Gomes v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1149, 55-56.) Second, contract law legitimizes the system, because recent deeds of trust require that the borrower agree that MERS can proceed with foreclosure in the event of default. (Id. at 1157.)

Procedural Requirements for Plaintiffs

California mortgagors must file in the Superior Court, which has the authority to grant the equitable relief of quieting title in an individual. (Cal. Code Civ. §760.040.) Once a party has filed the action, they must file a notice of pendency with the office of the county recorder. (Id. §762.010(b).) This notice puts all other parties who are claiming the party on notice that the plaintiff is claiming the land as his, and stops any transfers of the property during the lawsuit.

To survive a demurer, A plaintiff must file a verified complaint that includes: (1) A legal description and street address of the subject real property; (2) The title of plaintiff as to which determination is sought and the basis of the title; (3) The adverse claims to the title of the plaintiff against which a determination is sought; (4) The date as of which the determination is sought; and (5) A prayer for the determination of the title of the plaintiff against the adverse claims. It is highly likely that a claim merely alleging that the plaintiff has an interest in the land will not make it past a demurer. (See Mangindin v. Washington Mut. Bank, 637 F. Supp. 2d 700, 712 (N.D. Cal. 2009) (Dismissing claim merely alleging plaintiff had an interest in land foreclosed upon by bank).)

Tender Rule

A plaintiff seeking to quiet title in the face of a foreclosure must allege tender, which is “an unconditional offeror an offer of performance of their obligations under the Note, made in good faith, with the ability and willingness to perform.” The “Tender Rule” is derived from several cases involving disputes between junior and senior lienholders. (See Arnolds Mgmt. Corp. v. Eishen (1984) 158 Cal. App. 3d 575, 580; FPCI RE-HAB 01 v. E & G Investments, Ltd. (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1018, 1022.)

The policy behind the rule is that it would be a useless act to set aside a foreclosure sale based upon a procedural defect when a mortgage borrower cannot redeem the property in absence of that defect. (Karlsen v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 112, 118.) Some courts interpret the Tender Rule to only require that the mortgage borrower tender delinquent pre-foreclosure payments prior to any claim of quiet title. (Id. at 117; Ghervescu v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc., 2005 WL 6559918.)

Recently, defendants have successfully demurred to plaintiff’s complaints for quiet title for failure to allege valid tender. (Vasquez v. OneWest Bank, FSB (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 4, 2011, B225624) 2011 WL 5248294; Dupree v. Merrill Lynch Mortg. Lending, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 24, 2011, B225150) 2011 WL 5142051 (Affirming demurrer and denial of leave to amend complaint).)

SB 94 and its interferance with the practice

5 Sep

CA SB 94 on Lawyers & Loan Modifications Passes Assembly… 62-10

The California Assembly has passed Senate Bill 94, a bill that seeks to protect homeowners from loan modification scammers, but could end up having the unintended consequence of eliminating a homeowner’s ability to retain an attorney to help them save their home from foreclosure.

The bill, which has an “urgency clause” attached to it, now must pass the State Senate, and if passed, could be signed by the Governor on October 11th, and go into effect immediately thereafter.

SB 94’s author is California State Senator Ron Calderon, the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the bigger picture. Sen. Calderon, while acknowledging that fee-for-service providers can provide valuable services to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, authored SB 94 to ensure that providers of these services are not compensated until the contracted services have been performed.

SB 94 prevents companies, individuals… and even attorneys… from receiving fees or any other form of compensation until after the contracted services have been rendered. The bill will now go to the Democratic controlled Senate where it is expected to pass.

Supporters of the bill say that the state is literally teeming with con artists who take advantage of homeowners desperate to save their homes from foreclosure by charging hefty fees up front and then failing to deliver anything of value in return. They say that by making it illegal to charge up front fees, they will be protecting consumers from being scammed.

While there’s no question that there have been some unscrupulous people that have taken advantage of homeowners in distress, the number of these scammers is unclear. Now that we’ve learned that lenders and servicers have only modified an average of 9% of qualified mortgages under the Obama plan, it’s hard to tell which companies were scamming and which were made to look like scams by the servicers and lenders who failed to live up to their agreement with the federal government.

In fact, ever since it’s come to light that mortgage servicers have been sued hundreds of times, that they continue to violate the HAMP provisions, that they foreclose when they’re not supposed to, charge up front fees for modifications, require homeowners to sign waivers, and so much more, who can be sure who the scammers really are. Bank of America, for example, got the worst grade of any bank on the President’s report card listing, modifying only 4% of the eligible mortgages since the plan began. We’ve given B of A something like $200 billion and they still claim that they’re having a hard time answering the phones over there, so who’s scamming who?

To make matters worse, and in the spirit of Y2K, the media has fanned the flames of irrationality with stories of people losing their homes as a result of someone failing to get their loan modified. The stories go something like this:

We gave them 1,000. They told us to stop making our mortgage payment. They promised us a principal reduction. We didn’t hear from them for months. And then we lost our house.

I am so sure. Can that even happen? I own a house or two. Walk me through how that happened again, because I absolutely guarantee you… no way could those things happen to me and I end up losing my house over it. Not a chance in the world. I’m not saying I couldn’t lose a house, but it sure as heck would take a damn sight more than that to make it happen.

Depending on how you read the language in the bill, it may prevent licensed California attorneys from requiring a retainer in advance of services being rendered, and this could essentially eliminate a homeowner’s ability to hire a lawyer to help save their home.

Supporters, on the other hand, respond that homeowners will still be able to hire attorneys, but that the attorneys will now have to wait until after services have been rendered before being paid for their services. They say that attorneys, just like real estate agents and mortgage brokers, will now only be able to receive compensation after services have been rendered.

But, assuming they’re talking about at the end of the transaction, there are key differences. Real estate agents and mortgage brokers are paid OUT OF ESCROW at the end of a transaction. They don’t send clients a bill for their services after the property is sold.

Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are having trouble paying their bills and for the most part, their credit ratings have suffered as a result. If an attorney were to represent a homeowner seeking a loan modification, and then bill for his or her services after the loan was modified, the attorney would be nothing more than an unsecured creditor of a homeowner who’s only marginally credit worthy at best. If the homeowner didn’t pay the bill, the attorney would have no recourse other than to sue the homeowner in Small Claims Court where they would likely receive small payments over time if lucky.

Extending unsecured credit to homeowners that are already struggling to pay their bills, and then having to sue them in order to collect simply isn’t a business model that attorneys, or anyone else for that matter, are likely to embrace. In fact, the more than 50 California attorneys involved in loan modifications that I contacted to ask about this issue all confirmed that they would not represent homeowners on that basis.

One attorney, who asked not to be identified, said: “Getting a lender or servicer to agree to a loan modification takes months, sometimes six or nine months. If I worked on behalf of homeowners for six or nine months and then didn’t get paid by a number of them, it wouldn’t be very long before I’d have to close my doors. No lawyer is going to do that kind of work without any security and anyone who thinks they will, simply isn’t familiar with what’s involved.”

“I don’t think there’s any question that SB 94 will make it almost impossible for a homeowner to obtain legal representation related to loan modifications,” explained another attorney who also asked not to be identified. ”The banks have fought lawyers helping clients through the loan modification process every step of the way, so I’m not surprised they’ve pushed for this legislation to pass.”

Proponents of the legislation recite the all too familiar mantra about there being so many scammers out there that the state has no choice but to move to shut down any one offering to help homeowners secure loan modifications that charges a fee for the services. They point out that consumers can just call their banks directly, or that there are nonprofit organizations throughout the state that can help homeowners with loan modifications.

While the latter is certainly true, it’s only further evidence that there exists a group of people in positions of influence that are unfamiliar , or at the very least not adequately familiar with obtaining a loan modification through a nonprofit organization, and they’ve certainly never tried calling a bank directly.

The fact that there are nonprofit housing counselors available, and the degree to which they may or may not be able to assist a given homeowner, is irrelevant. Homeowners are well aware of the nonprofit options available. They are also aware that they can call their banks directly. From the President of the United States and and U.S. Attorney General to the community newspapers found in every small town in America, homeowners have heard the fairy tales about about these options, and they’ve tried them… over and over again, often times for many months. When they didn’t get the desired results, they hired a firm to help them.

Yet, even the State Bar of California is supporting SB 94, and even AB 764, a California Assembly variation on the theme, and one even more draconian because of its requirement that attorneys only be allowed to bill a client after a successful loan modification has been obtained. That means that an attorney would have to guarantee a homeowner that he or she would obtain a modification agreement from a lender or servicer or not get paid for trying. Absurd on so many levels. Frankly, if AB 764 passes, would the last one out of California please turn off the lights and bring the flag.

As of late July, the California State Bar said it was investigating 391 complaints against 141 attorneys, as opposed to nine investigations related to loan modifications in 2008. The Bar hasn’t read anywhere all of the complaints its received, but you don’t have to be a statistician to figure out that there’s more to the complaints that meets the eye. So far the State Bar has taken action against three attorneys and the Attorney General another four… so, let’s see… carry the 3… that’s 7 lawyers. Two or three more and they could have a softball team.

At the federal level they’re still reporting the same numbers they were last spring. Closed 11… sent 71 letters… blah, blah, blah… we’ve got a country of 300 million and at least 5 million are in trouble on their mortgage. The simple fact is, they’re going to have to come up with some serious numbers before I’m going to be scared of bumping into a scammer on every corner.

Looking Ahead…

California’s ALT-A and Option ARM mortgages are just beginning to re-set, causing payments to rise, and with almost half of the mortgages in California already underwater, these homeowners will be unable to refinance and foreclosures will increase as a result. Prime jumbo foreclosure rates are already up a mind blowing 634% as compared with January 2008 levels, according to LPS Applied Analytics.

Clearly, if SB 94 ends up reducing the number of legitimate firms available for homeowners to turn to, everyone involved in its passage is going to be retiring. While many sub-prime borrowers have suffered silently through this horror show of a housing crisis, the ALT-A and Option ARM borrowers are highly unlikely to slip quietly into the night.

There are a couple of things about the latest version of SB 94 that I found interesting:

1. It says that a lawyer can’t collect a fee or any other compensation before serivces have been delivered, but it doesn’t make clear whether attorneys can ask the client to deposit funds in the law firm’s trust account and then bill against thsoe funds as amounts are earned. Funds deposited in a law firm trust account remain the client’s funds, so they’re not a lawyer’s “fees or other compensation”. Those funds are there so that when the fees have been earned, the lawyer doesn’t have to hope his or her bill gets paid. Of course, it also says that an attorney can’t hold any security interest, but money in a trust account a client’s money, the attorney has no lien against it. All of this is a matter of interpretation, of course, so who knows.

2. While there used to be language in both the real estate and lawyer sections that prohibited breaking up services related to a loan modification, in the latest version all of the language related to breaking up services as applied to attorneys has been eliminated. It still applies to real estate licensed firms, but not to attorneys. This may be a good thing, as at least a lawyer could complete sections of the work involved as opposed to having to wait until the very end, which the way the banks have been handling things, could be nine months away.

3. The bill says nothing about the amounts that may be charged for services in connection with a loan modification. So, in the case of an attorney, that would seem to mean that… well, you can put one, two and three together from there.

4. Lawyers are not included in definition of foreclosure consultant. And there is a requirement that new language be inserted in contracts, along the lines of “You don’t have to pay anyone to get a loan modification… blah, blah, blah.” Like that will be news to any homeowner in America. I’ve spoken with hundreds and never ran across one who didn’t try it themselves before calling a lawyer. I realize the Attorney General doesn’t seem to know that, but look… he’s been busy.

Conclusion…

Will SB 94 actually stop con artists from taking advantage of homeowners in distress? Or will it end up only stopping reputable lawyers from helping homeowners, while foreclosures increase and our economy continues its deflationary free fall? Will the California State Bar ever finishing reading the complaints being received, and if they ever do, will they understand what they’ve read. Or is our destiny that the masses won’t understand what’s happening around them until it sucks them under as well.

I surely hope not. But for now, I’m just hoping people can still a hire an attorney next week to help save their homes, because if they can’t… the Bar is going to get a lot more letters from unhappy homeowners.

Don't get HAMP ED out of your home!

5 Sep

By Walter Hackett, Esq.
The federal government has trumpeted its Home Affordable Modification Program or “HAMP” solution as THE solution to runaway foreclosures – few things could be further from the truth. Under HAMP a homeowner will be offered a “workout” that can result in the homeowner being “worked out” of his or her home. Here’s how it works. A participating lender or servicer will send a distressed homeowner a HAMP workout agreement. The agreement consists of an “offer” pursuant to which the homeowner is permitted to remit partial or half of their regular monthly payments for 3 or more months. The required payments are NOT reduced, instead the partial payments are placed into a suspense account. In many cases once enough is gathered to pay the oldest payment due the funds are removed from the suspense account and applied to the mortgage loan. At the end of the trial period the homeowner will be further behind than when they started the “workout” plan.
In California, the agreements clearly specify the acceptance of partial payments by the lender or servicer does NOT cure any default. Further, the fact a homeowner is in the workout program does NOT require the lender or servicer to suspend or postpone any non-judicial foreclosure activity with the possible exception of an actual trustee’s sale. A homeowner could complete the workout plan and be faced with an imminent trustee’s sale. Worse, if a homeowner performs EXACTLY as required by the workout agreement, they are NOT assured a loan modification. Instead the agreement will include vague statements that the homeowner MAY receive an offer to modify his or her loan however there is NO duty on the part of the servicer or lender to modify a loan regardless of the homeowner’s compliance with the agreement.

A homeowner who fully performs under a HAMP workout is all but guaranteed to have given away thousands of dollars with NO assurance of keeping his or her home or ever seeing anything resembling an offer to modify a mortgage loan.
While it may well be the case the government was making an honest effort to help, the reality is the HAMP program is only guaranteed to help those who need help least – lenders and servicers. If you receive ANY written offer to modify your loan meet with a REAL licensed attorney and ask them to review the agreement to determine what you are REALLY agreeing to, the home you save might be your own.

A ‘Little Judge’ Who Rejects Foreclosures, Brooklyn Style

2 Sep

By Michael Powell – NY Times – 8/30/09

The judge waves you into his chambers in the State Supreme Court building in Brooklyn, past the caveat taped to his wall — “Be sure brain in gear before engaging mouth” — and into his inner office, where foreclosure motions are piled high enough to form a minor Alpine chain.

“I don’t want to put a family on the street unless it’s legitimate,” Justice Arthur M. Schack said.

Every week, the nation’s mightiest banks come to his court seeking to take the homes of New Yorkers who cannot pay their mortgages. And nearly as often, the judge says, they file foreclosure papers speckled with errors.

He plucks out one motion and leafs through: a Deutsche Bank representative signed an affidavit claiming to be the vice president of two different banks. His office was in Kansas City, Mo., but the signature was notarized in Texas. And the bank did not even own the mortgage when it began to foreclose on the homeowner.

The judge’s lips pucker as if he had inhaled a pickle; he rejected this one. “I’m a little guy in Brooklyn who doesn’t belong to their country clubs, what can I tell you?” he says, adding a shrug for punctuation. “I won’t accept their comedy of errors.”

The judge, Arthur M. Schack, 64, fashions himself a judicial Don Quixote, tilting at the phalanxes of bankers, foreclosure facilitators and lawyers who file motions by the bale. While national debate focuses on bank bailouts and federal aid for homeowners that has been slow in coming, the hard reckonings of the foreclosure crisis are being made in courts like his, and Justice Schack’s sympathies are clear. He has tossed out 46 of the 102 foreclosure motions that have come before him in the last two years. And his often scathing decisions, peppered with allusions to the Croesus-like wealth of bank presidents, have attracted the respectful attention of judges and lawyers from Florida to Ohio to California. At recent judicial conferences in Chicago and Arizona, several panelists praised his rulings as a possible national model.

His opinions, too, have been greeted by a cry of affront from a bank official or two, who say this judge stands in the way of what is rightfully theirs. HSBC bank appealed a recent ruling, saying he had set a “dangerous precedent” by acting as “both judge and jury,” throwing out cases even when homeowners had not responded to foreclosure motions. Justice Schack, like a handful of state and federal judges, has taken a magnifying glass to the mortgage industry. In the gilded haste of the past decade, bankers handed out millions of mortgages — with terms good, bad and exotically ugly — then repackaged those loans for sale to investors from Connecticut to Singapore. Sloppiness reigned. So many papers have been lost, signatures misplaced and documents dated inaccurately that it is often not clear which bank owns the mortgage.

Justice Schack’s take is straightforward, and sends a tremor through some bank suites: If a bank cannot prove ownership, it cannot foreclose. “If you are going to take away someone’s house, everything should be legal and correct,” he said. “I’m a strange guy — I don’t want to put a family on the street unless it’s legitimate.”

Justice Schack has small jowls and big black glasses, a thin mustache and not so many hairs combed across his scalp. He has the impish eyes of the high school social studies teacher he once was, aware that something untoward is probably going on at the back of his classroom. He is Brooklyn born and bred, with a master’s degree in history and an office loaded with autographed baseballs and photographs of the Brooklyn Dodgers. His written decisions are a free-associative trip through popular, legal and literary culture, with a sideways glance at the business pages.

Confronted with a case in which Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs passed a defaulted mortgage back and forth and lost track of the documents, the judge made reference to the film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the evil banker played by Lionel Barrymore. “Lenders should not lose sight,” Justice Schack wrote in that 2007 case, “that they are dealing with humanity, not with Mr. Potter’s ‘rabble’ and ‘cattle.’ Multibillion-dollar corporations must follow the same rules in the foreclosure actions as the local banks, savings and loan associations or credit unions, or else they have become the Mr. Potters of the 21st century.”

Last year, he chastised Wells Fargo for filing error-filled papers. “The court,” the judge wrote, “reminds Wells Fargo of Cassius’s advice to Brutus in Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ ”

Then there is a Deutsche Bank case from 2008, the juicy part of which he reads aloud:

“The court wonders if the instant foreclosure action is a corporate ‘Kansas City Shuffle,’ a complex confidence game,” he reads. “In the 2006 film ‘Lucky Number Slevin,’ Mr. Goodkat, a hit man played by Bruce Willis, explains: ‘A Kansas City Shuffle is when everybody looks right, you go left.’ ”The banks’ reaction? Justice Schack shrugs. “They probably curse at me,” he says, “but no one is interested in some little judge.”

Little drama attends the release of his decisions. Beaten-down homeowners rarely show up to contest foreclosure actions, and the judge scrutinizes the banks’ papers in his chambers. But at legal conferences, judges and lawyers have wondered aloud why more judges do not hold banks to tougher standards.

“To the extent that judges examine these papers, they find exactly the same errors that Judge Schack does,” said Katherine M. Porter, a visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a national expert in consumer credit law. “His rulings are hardly revolutionary; it’s unusual only because we so rarely hold large corporations to the rules.”

Banks and the cottage industry of mortgage service companies and foreclosure lawyers also pay rather close attention. A spokeswoman for OneWest Bank acknowledged that an official, confronted with a ream of foreclosure papers, had mistakenly signed for two different banks — just as the Deutsche Bank official did. Deutsche Bank, which declined to let an attorney speak on the record about any of its cases before Justice Schack, e-mailed a PDF of a three-page pamphlet in which it claimed little responsibility for foreclosures, even though the bank’s name is affixed to tens of thousands of such motions. The bank described itself as simply a trustee for investors.

Justice Schack came to his recent prominence by a circuitous path, having worked for 14 years as public school teacher in Brooklyn. He was a union representative and once walked a picket line with his wife, Dilia, who was a teacher, too. All was well until the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.

“Why’d I go to law school?” he said. “Thank Mayor Abe Beame, who froze teacher salaries.”

He was counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association in the 1980s and ’90s, when it was on a long winning streak against team owners. “It was the millionaires versus the billionaires,” he says. “After a while, I’m sitting there thinking, ‘He’s making $4 million, he’s making $5 million, and I’m worth about $1.98.’ ”

So he dived into a judicial race. He was elected to the Civil Court in 1998 and to the Supreme Court for Brooklyn and Staten Island in 2003. His wife is a Democratic district leader; their daughter, Elaine, is a lawyer and their son, Douglas, a police officer.Justice Schack’s duels with the banks started in 2007 as foreclosures spiked sharply. He saw a plague falling on Brooklyn, particularly its working-class black precincts. “Banks had given out loans structured to fail,” he said.

The judge burrowed into property record databases. He found banks without clear title, and a giant foreclosure law firm, Steven J. Baum, representing two sides in a dispute. He noted that Wells Fargo’s chief executive, John G. Stumpf, made more than $11 million in 2007 while the company’s total returns fell 12 percent. “Maybe,” he advised the bank, “counsel should wonder, like the court, if Mr. Stumpf was unjustly enriched at the expense of W.F.’s stockholders.”

He was, how to say it, mildly appalled. “I’m a guy from the streets of Brooklyn who happens to become a judge,” he said. “I see a bank giving a $500,000 mortgage on a building worth $300,000 and the interest rate is 20 percent and I ask questions, what can I tell you?”