Friday, August 31, 2012

Judge Tatel votes against voter suppression in Texas

Finally, a court stands against the disturbing trend of disenfranchisement of Americans. The Washington Post reports that Judge Tatel, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, has  denied a request by the State of Texas for a declaration that a voter identification law passes Constitutional muster. In a brief opinion, Judge Tatel concludes that Texas did not demonstrate the absence of a "retrogressive" effect on minority participation.

Read the entire opinion, here.

Judge Tatel is a sharp fellow. And despite being a Clinton appointee (to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg), he has not followed any party line in his notable decisions. Here's hoping the Supremes uphold this decision.

My God, in what bizarro world is it a modern American value to actively suppress voter participation in such a blatantly partisan manner? Especially where the evidence of voter fraud is virtually non-existent?  Shame.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Feed the pigs, but slaughter a hog

The pig has long been a symbol of our basest instincts, including greed and gluttony.  The grossest of porcine references is to be called a "hog." This seems to be a universal idiom for the most gluttonous among us, used to brand those who push beyond being sated into the realm of voracious over consumption of limited resources. 

We can tolerate a pig, but the true hog among us deserves to be completely eviscerated.

The Times-Tribune, of Scranton, Pennsylvania recently reported the antics of one such hog, Peoples Neighborhood Bank (hereinafter "the Hog"), and a lawsuit filed by it's customer, Sheila Layo. 

The Hog loaned money to Ms. Layo to purchase a house. Perfectly normal and expected.

The settlement attorney (a piece of work currently suspended from the practice of law for other transgressions) disbursed the loan, and had Ms. Layo sign all the settlement papers.  Perfectly normal and expected.

The settlement attorney failed to record the deed into Ms. Layo, or the deed of trust securing the Hog to the real property.  Not normal, and not expected.

The Hog knew it was not secured, and knew that Ms. Layo's deed was not recorded. And the Hog knew this for several years, but continued to accept 42 monthly payments from Ms. Layo. Definitely not normal, and certainly not expected by Ms. Layo.

Ms. Layo tried to refinance, but was denied because she was not the record owner of her house.  She also had lost the financial benefit from significant tax breaks, because she did not own her house. When she alerted the Hog, it refused to act, but insisted on receiving her continued monthly payments. It appears from the story that the Hog didn't follow the ordinary course, and make a lender's title insurance claim.  The insurer would have then hired outside counsel to record the deed, and the deed of trust. The insurer would have paid the costs to record, even if the money had already been aggregated in the settlement lawyer's accounts before being lost or stolen.  As further insult to Ms. Layo, the Hog told Ms. Layo that SHE would have to pay the costs of a second settlement if she wanted a recorded deed evidencing her ownership of the home. 

Oink, oink, snort.

Ms. Layo has a long way to travel on her way to a money judgment, but there aren't many who will shed tears if she dines on a pork chop or two when the case resolves.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Must I pay the real estate broker?

You've heard the story, and it goes like this-- "I had to back out of a real estate contract to sell my property, and now the broker is demanding that he get paid, what do I do?"

If you can't run to a phone and call us, here's the essential rule--a Maryland real estate broker is entitled to a commission upon his (or her) good faith procurement of a purchaser who becomes bound by a valid contract of sale. So, if the broker brings you a buyer, and the buyer signs, and the contract is now "live" and are on the hook to pay the broker, even if you never settle on that contract!

And as a general rule, especially in a very tight market, this is fair.  After all, most of the brokers I have met work pretty hard, and sacrifice quite a bit to make their deals work.

And it is not the broker's "fault" if you or the buyer cancel the deal, or one party defaults and refuses to close the deal.  In fact, this fact pattern describes at least six cases we've had in the last year.

You can avoid this result, of course, with the help of a lawyer.  You see, the statute is merely a legislative rule of construction.  It exists to supply a term of a contract that you and the other party simply forgot to include in the document, "when does the broker earn a fee?"

Our practice is to advise including contract terms that modify the default setting of the statute. You may agree that the broker's commission should only be paid from "proceeds of sale." That means you must settle on the deal before the broker is entitled to a fee. This also provides you with one more person motivated to help the deal along to completion!

Don't get caught by surprise! Read everything, and then have it all reviewed by a lawyer--before you sign!

Visit the Young & Valkenet website.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pitbulls need a better lobbyist in Annapolis!

Since the Maryland Court of Appeals decision branding the breed "inherently dangerous," public pressure appeared to be mounting for our state politicians to overturn the decision through legislative fiat. That effort has failed, as reported by the Baltimore Sun on August 15th.

The State Senate drafted a bill that would have imposed strict liability for ALL breeds, from your infirm corgi to your neighbor's musclebound rottweiler. If the senate bill prevailed, the shelters may well have been full of all breeds of dogs, as they were abandoned by their apartment dwelling owners.  Want more? Fetch SB

But the State House took a different tack.  It drafted a bill that would have preserved most of the common law, and eliminated common law defenses in limited circumstances.  The draft sought to preserve most of Maryland's "one bite" law.  In a reading mood? Chew on this copy of HB 1804.

But in a special legislative session that was called to address casino gambling, and the State's growing thirst for gambling income, the dogs were shooed off the legislative couch and sent outside.

Expect to see this issue return when the legislature returns in January 2013. Fido will have to live with the uncertainty, until then.

Of course, there is no legislation that protects the poor slob who gets mauled to death by his own Pit Bull, as was reported on July 11, 2012, in Ohio. Poor Mr. Brown was a dialysis patient who was attacked by his own beloved pooch while hooked to his dialysis the safety and sanctity of his own home!  After the attack, he remained conscious long enough to call the police, but, alas:
"The paramedics could not get to this individual, they needed the dog removed. It took our officer about 10 minutes to respond. By the time he had gotten there police had already shot the dog so the paramedics could get to the victim," ...Lt. Bardeau with Cincinnati Police say they hadn't received any complaints about the dog.
Ironically, Ohio repealed it's own breed-specific legislation three months ago. Perhaps Mr. Brown's dog felt empowered?

On July 5, 2012, a Canadian study reported that breed specific Pit Bull bans correlated with fewer hospitalizations of dog bit victims.Visit this summary as additional food for thought.

On August 27, 2012, the Baltimore Sun reported a dog attack at the nearby Waverly Market, an open air market near the former site of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. I spent years visiting this market, and know well the restriction on dogs. This story reports on the dog left chained to a parking meter that broke free to maul a 20 year old woman.  And it was a Rottweiler, and not a Pitbull.

A distinction without a difference, in my book, as they are both musclebound jaws with eyes and blood lust.  But it should make a difference to our legislators and the Maryland Court of Appeals- the problem extends beyond Pit Bulls.

Chew on that.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You may still end up in debtor's prison

On a recent trip to Williamsburg, I spent some time in the ancient "gaol," where poor folks might have ended up for failure to pay their bills. Here's an excerpt of their history:

The only offense for which long-term imprisonment was common was debt, though this presented a paradox. Wealthy debtors who had money but refused to pay might be persuaded by the prospect of imprisonment to settle their obligations.

Locking up the poor, though, guaranteed they could never earn the money they owed, and this struck many as absurd. The New York legislature said in 1732 that "many poor persons may be imprisoned a long time for very small sums of money … to the ruin of their families, great damage to the public who are in Christian charity obliged to provide for them and their families … and without any real benefit to their creditors." Yet only in the 1830s did the United States begin to abolish debtors' prisons.
I spent just a few minutes in the jail cells (partly because my wife and traveling companions closed the door and held it shut!), and it was not fun. I was alone in a cell built for 8, but which often held up to 25, with no provisions for personal comfort or privacy.

But you can still be jailed for your unpaid debts!  The "debtor's prison" may have been officially abolished, but that doesn't mean you won't end up in jail after being sued for unpaid bills. Don't appear for trial or the post-trial examination, and you can be arrested--it won't matter if you owe $500 or $5,000 dollars! And see what this Alabama judge had to say on the subject of "private prisons." 

If you've been sued, it goes without saying that you MUST seek guidance of counsel to negotiate with your creditor, counter-sue them, or help you navigate through a bankruptcy. It is not necessarily your inability to pay that will get you jailed, it is your refusal or failure to participate in the judicial process, which will grind you to a pulp if you simply ignore that judicial summons.

[Update: check out this August 19, 2012 report, from St. Louis, that describes how Missouri folk are being imprisoned for days, for debts as small as $400-500!]

And even after the conclusion of the judicial process, including bankruptcy, you can still be haunted by old debt that remains on your credit reports. I've had so many questions about errors in client credit reports which cause disruption in their lives, I am sharing the publicly available information that will allow most folks a "do-it-yourself" remedy to ghost entries.

Once a debt has been written off and a 1099C has been issued, the debt can't be collected. Errors on your credit report must be corrected by the credit reporting agencies according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Collect a copy of the 1099C and any other relevant information and submit this information to the credit reporting agencies with a request to correct your credit report. Inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information must be removed or corrected, usually within 30 days. However, a reporting agency may continue to report information it has verified as accurate.

Visit the Federal Trade Commission for a good summary of the process on the official government website. Check it out!

Call us, if you need help.

Visit the Young & Valkenet website.