By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – After listening to arguments in front of a packed courtroom supporting “peoples’ attorney” Vanessa Fluker May 13, Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Virgil Smith is to rule this week on the recusal of Judge Robert Colombo from a landlord-tenant case for “the appearance of conflict of interest.”
During the case, Colombo fined Fluker $12,000, calling her lawsuit on behalf of client Asha Tyson “vexacious.” Tyson was being evicted by her mortgage holder, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group.
“Judge Colombo renegotiated his own home mortgage with RBS in very favorable terms while presiding over this case,” Fluker’s attorney Jerome Goldberg argued May 13. “He negotiated a $65,000 reduction in the principal from $200,000 to $135,000 in 2009. That is the the issue. We discovered this fact on March 1, 2011. Judge Colombo’s extreme actions against my client triggered our investigation.” (Click on http://www.waynecountylandrecords.com/RealEstate/SearchDetail.aspx to view Colombo’s mortgage document.)
This was the third mortgage renegotiation Colombo conducted with RBS, Goldberg said, resulting in a mortage discharge in 2009 while he was hearing the Asha Tyson case.
Goldberg said additionally, “Under Michigan Court Rule 2.003 and the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct, we do not have to prove wrongdoing. He did not make a disclosure. This raises a red flag and indicates the appearance of impropriety. The necessity for confidence in the judiciary is so great that a judge has to abstain from what an ‘objective and reasonable observer,’ not a judge or lawyer, considers the appearance of impropriety. The proper course of action is to disqualify Judge Colombo.”
Click on MCR 2.003 and Code of Judicial Conduct to read language in the code.
Smith repeatedly asked whether someone had paid the $65,000 or that the bank took a loss on Colombo’s implying that Goldberg needed to prove that.
David Wells, the attorney with Simon Galasso & Frantz PLC, which is representing Charter One/RBS, argued chiefly that Goldberg was out of the time limits for filing for recusal, disputing Goldberg’s claim that the limits tolled from the date of the discovery of Colombo’s mortgage renegotiation.
Judge Smith said. “This is a complicated case and we are waiting for transcripts. I will take this under advisement and issue a written opinion within two weeks.
After the hearing, Fluker said, “I think my attorney did a wonderful job, and I just want to believe that God will see to it that justice prevails.”
Goldberg decried Fluker’s treatment at the hands of Judge Colombo, who claimed among other issues that briefs she filed in her client’s case were the worst he had seen.
“My client received the Golden Gavel award as the Outstanding Attorney of the Year from the Wolverine Bar Association,” he said. “She is universally respected for the quality of her work. If a disqualification of Colombo doesn’t happen at this level, it will happen on appeal.”
Colombo has refused comment on the matter because the case is still pending.
Weeks also claimed that a housing discrimination case Fluker cited in defense of her client, filed by the Center for Community Justice and Advocacy, had been dismissed.
Kimberly Boyd-Harris, Executive Director for the Center, was at the hearing to support Fluker.
“Our organization filed a federal lawsuit against RBS citing discriminatory lending practices against African-Americans living in the city of Detroit,” Boyd-Harris explained. “It was based on RBS’ unwillingness to rectify the situation. Since the case was dismissed, however, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken action against RBS Citizens.”
On May 5, the DOJ issued a release stating that a $3.6 million settlement was reached with Citizens Bank regarding alleged lending discrimination in Detroit.
“Citizens Republic Bankcorp (CRBC) and Citizens Bank of Flint, Mich., will open a loan production office in an African-American neighborhood in Detroit, invest approximately $3.6 million in Wayne County, Mich., and take other steps as part of a settlement to resolve allegations that they engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and color,” said the DOJ.
Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said, “Discrimination in the provision of lending services based on race deprives communities of access to credit and leaves the residents of minority neighborhoods vulnerable to predatory lenders. This type of discrimination is part of the web of intolerable practices that stripped vast amounts of wealth from communities of color in the last decade.”
The DOJ said the lawsuit originated from a 2010 referral by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
In 2000, the Royal Bank of Scotland was the 10th largest bank in the world. It is 84 percent owned by the government of the United Kingdom, and in Nov. 2009 announced plans to cut 19,700 jobs. The following month, the RBS revolted against its main shareholder, the British Government, threatening to resign unless they were allowed to give bonuses of 1.5 billion pounds, or $2.42 billion, to its investment staff. Their action came in the wake of an 850 billion pound bailout by UK taxpayers.
People Before Banks is holding a fundraiser for Vanessa Fluker’s legal defense fund, as well as its campaign against Chase Bank, on Thurs. June 2, 2011 at 6 p.m. at the UAW Local 600 headquarters, located at 10550 Dix Ave., Dearborn, MI. For more information, click on http://peoplebeforebanks.org/.
MORE NEWS ON THE BATTLE AGAINST FORECLORUES: Michigan Appeals Court rules MERS foreclosures illegal; victims should seek redress
If your house was foreclosed, you may be able to stay in your home and pursue claims under this decision.
(WXYZ) – A ruling by the state Court of Appeals could mean relief for thousands of people facing foreclosure in Michigan.
The ruling applies to foreclosures started under the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS. …
The court ruled that MERS was not entitled to initiate what is called foreclosure by advertisement. Local lawyers are telling people that if MERS carried out their foreclosures, they should go to court as soon as possible because any eviction involving MERS must be dismissed.
VOD Ed.: Attorney Jerome Goldberg said Vanessa Fluker filed the first case in Michigan challenging the right of MERS to foreclose and evict homeowners.)
The Michigan Court of Appeals handed down a ruling yesterday essentially saying MERS has no authority to foreclose in the state of Michigan The court combined two cases, Residential Funding Co, LLC, f/k/a Residential Funding Corporation v. Gerald Saurman and Bank of New York Trust Company v. Corey Messner. The court overruled both a district court ruling and circuit court ruling which found in favor of the plaintiffs in both cases. In their conclusion, the court (Appeals Court Judges Douglas B. Shapiro and Deborah Servitto) commented, “Defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, pursuant to MCL 600.3204(1)(d), MERS did not own the indebtedness, own an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage, or service the mortgage. MERS’ inability to comply with the statutory requirements rendered the foreclosure proceedings in both cases void ab initio. Thus, the circuit courts improperly affirmed the district courts’ decisions to proceed with eviction based upon the foreclosures of defendants’ properties.”
(Click on COA Residential Funding v. Gerald Sauerman to read case in entirety.)