New York State has something known as settlement conferences for homeowners facing foreclosure. It is a good law. Distressed borrowers can go to the courthouse and meet with lawyers of their lender face to face in front of a judge or court appointed referee. The referee is there to make sure that the bank is treating the borrower fairly, and if the borrower is trying to modify their loan, they are given every chance to do so with the conference process in place to ensure fair treatment.
I have accompanied quite a few clients to these hearings. I have seen referees discuss with bank lawyers lost faxes, red tape, and much of the other nonsensical stuff that banks often subject their borrowers to, and the referee/judge doesn't have much room for that sort of thing. It is the closest thing to compassion by statute I have ever seen for borrowers facing foreclosure.
Now, while this sounds well and good, the borrowers who get these letters calling them to schedule a conference are beyond stressed. They are frightened. Nothing I can say makes them comfortable about going to court in front of a judge and facing the lawyer who represents the bank in the foreclosure proceeding. The only role I can play when I go with my clients is that of support. It makes a difference.
About 2 weeks ago, I went with another client to one of these conferences. It was the same as you'd expect- a stressed out borrower with his home listed with me as a short sale with a manila folder filled with his records. He couldn't afford a lawyer. We waited in the hall together outside the court room, which acted as a waiting room of sorts for the foreclosure lawyers while the judge held the conferences in her chamber.
You have to appreciate the place filled with other borrowers behind on their mortgages waiting for their sessions. They show up with thick folders, they speak in hushed tones, and the scent of fear is heavy in the air. It's like a wake or a hospital emergency room waiting area. Even when the borrower can afford their own attorney, it is somber. One husband and wife showed up with their toddler daughter, wide eyed and adorable. I can imagine the mental gymnastics they were going through to be strong for her.
I debated even posting about this, and while it is not the Zapruder film or conclusive proof of the Yeti, it is significant because it speaks to the times we live in.
We were about 10 feet from the door, and our session was for 10am. We didn't get in front of the judge until 11:30, so we had 90 minutes together in the hall while we heard the bank attorneys in the next room talk.
And these guys were having a good old time. A laugh a minute. It was just a good old boy, back slapping, bull session among colleagues who were either oblivious to the suffering of the people 10 feet away, or they just didn't care. Now since they could see us and walked past us every time they went to get a drink or go to the men's room, and since they knew why we were there, I have to conclude that they just didn't care. Not a lick.
My client just shook his head. It dawned on me that I had my mobile phone, so, for science, I ran the camera for 60 seconds to see if I could capture our friends in a few carefree laughs. They didn't disappoint. I have never seen this kind of behavior outside a settlement conference in any other courthouse. It's almost like they were rubbing it in; Hey pal, we're all lawyers in suits with this steady gig representing the bank, and you're not. So sit there and marinate in your stress and fear- we'll be 10 feet away, yucking it up in our little carefree club, and revel in our joy of not being you. It went on all morning.
Like I said: I have been to conferences in counties all over the Hudson Valley, and I won't name which courthouse this one was. But none of the other ones was remotely like this. I might add that the woman in the foreground closest to the door was the lawyer for my client's bank. She couldn't have been a nicer lady, and her discomfort with the contrast between the rooms was obvious to me over the 90 odd minutes. But her colleagues? When they get theirs I won't shed a tear. So yuck it up and rub my guy's nose in it boys. Your time will come. Karma's a bitch.
Go to about 0:30.