Notaries invoke Fifth Amendment in foreclosure hearings
Posted: 4:50 pm Tue, January 25, 2011
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
Attorney Thomas P. Dore on Tuesday conceded that five pending foreclosure proceedings should be dismissed because he could not vouch for his signature on documents filed with the Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Judge W. Michel Pierson must still determine what action to take, if any, with regard to at least 15 other foreclosures involving notarized documents not actually signed by Dore, who represents lenders.
Eighteen current and former notaries public invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify regarding their certification of Dore’s signature on the documents.
“Truthful answers to questions posed might tend to incriminate them,” the notaries’ attorney, David B. Irwin, of Irwin Green & Dexter LLP in Towson, told Pierson. “I have no doubt that they have a good-faith invocation right.”
Notaries who knowingly certify false signatures face possible criminal sanctions for misconduct in office or fraud.
Pierson accepted Irwin’s representation and excused the 18 individuals, who have worked for or are working at Dore’s firm, Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore PA in Towson.
The judge dismissed the five pending actions without prejudice, meaning the lenders may refile them.
Pierson took under advisement a request from attorney Alvin I. Frederick that he not upset the ratified sales in 12 foreclosure cases Dore handled. Frederick, of Eccleston & Wolf PC in Hanover, was representing Covahey, Boozer in its capacity as substitute trustee in those sales.
At least three other pending foreclosures related to Dore await a ruling by Pierson, who heard about five hours of testimony from the lawyer on Tuesday.
Dore came under heavy questioning from the judge and a special master appointed to review his foreclosure documents for irregularities.
At the end of his testimony, Dore expressed regret to the court for failing to sign the documents himself but said he always acted in good faith.
“I apologize for having put you through this,” Dore told Pierson from the stand.
“I made a terrible mistake,” he added. “It was never my intent to deceive the court. It was frankly stupid, your honor.”
‘A stupid mistake’
Earlier in the day, Pierson and the special master, Elizabeth A. Ritter, grilled Dore on his since-abandoned practice of having others — in some cases non-attorney staff members — sign his name to foreclosure documents, which were then notarized and filed in court.
Dore said the firm’s notaries were not expected to authenticate signatures in the standard way of having the person sign in their presence and present identification. Rather, the notaries understood that their receipt of documents from him meant that he had reviewed them and authorized them to be notarized, Dore added.
“I’ve been practicing law for 20 years and these people have worked for me,” he said. “You develop a practice.”
But then Dore’s system of authorizing others to sign for him “had gotten out of hand” and he discovered that staff members whom he had not authorized to sign his name had, in fact, signed foreclosure documents, he said.
“Ethically, I should have signed those affidavits myself,” Dore said. “I realized I made a stupid mistake and we changed our practice.”
Dore insisted that at no time did documents leave his office without being carefully reviewed for accuracy.
He said he submitted “corrective affidavits” to the court in foreclosure cases where he knew he had not personally signed the affidavits.
Dore added he did not file corrective affidavits in cases where he was merely uncertain as to whether he signed the documents.
Pierson and Ritter questioned Dore on his inability to say, even after being shown signed foreclosure documents by Ritter, if the signatures were his.
“I’m not certain,” Dore said repeatedly; and “it appears to be my signature but I am not certain it is my signature.”
Ritter asked Dore his age, which he gave as 48.
“In your 48 years, is it uncommon for you not to know your own signature?” Ritter asked.
Dore responded that he does not “have great pride” in his signature.
“I sign very sloppily,” Dore said, adding that his sloppiness increases with the many documents he signs on a typical day.
“My signature has become like making a mark,” he added. “On a good day, it looks one way and on a bad day it looks horrible.”
He added that his wife “won’t let me sign checks at home.”
Dore’s appearance in Pierson’s courtroom followed the Maryland Court of Appeals’ adoption in October of an emergency rule designed to identify and weed out irregularities in the mortgage foreclosure process.
The rule was prompted in large part by revelations that Dore and an attorney at another firm had not personally signed affidavits accompanying foreclosure forms. Like Dore, attorney Jacob Geesing subsequently filed corrective affidavits with his signature.
Geesing is with Bierman, Geesing, Ward & Wood LLC in Bethesda.
Pierson appointed Ritter under a provision of the rule enabling circuit court judges to select independent lawyers to review foreclosure documents for problems. Ritter, who took on the assignment pro bono, retired last summer as chief of the economic crimes division in the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office.
The judge did not give any indication of when he would rule on the remaining pending foreclosure actions or the 12 that have gone to sale.