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More foreclosure filings under scrutiny in Baltimore

Baltimore City Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson made no decision Thursday about whether 13 foreclosures filed last year by the law firm of Friedman & MacFayden P.A. should be dismissed for attorney signature irregularities. But after an all-day hearing that featured admissions of sloppy penmanship and procedure at the firm, the writing may be on the wall.

Attorney Daniel Menchel, whose signatures are under scrutiny, and two former notaries public in the firm’s Baltimore office said it was standard practice for documents to be notarized even though the notaries did not see who signed them. And the notaries conceded that Menchel’s signatures, which indicated he believed the foreclosures were proper, were uniquely various.

While everyone maintained the various iterations of Menchel’s signature were all his, Judge Pierson seemed dubious.

“Do you know anyone else who has such a wide variety of signatures?” Judge Pierson asked Joann Sottile, a notary who resigned her commission in January after signatures by Kenneth J. MacFayden were questioned.

“No I don’t,” Sottile responded.

“Does he always sign it with his same hand?” Pierson asked later.

Thursday’s hearing was one of several Pierson is conducting to determine whether dozens of questionably handled foreclosures should be dismissed.

He dismissed several cases in January after attorney Thomas P. Dore could not recognize his own signature on certain documents. On Friday, MacFayden will take the stand regarding 10 cases bearing his signatures, even though the lenders in those cases have agreed to dismiss them. On Monday, attorneys from another firm will take the stand, and later this month, a lawyer associated with Dore will have to answer for his signatures.

The Friedman & MacFayden P.A. group’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.

Menchel’s issue is different than Dore’s and Geesing’s because he maintains he signed all the documents, even though the form of that signature varies considerably within a single day and appears perhaps five different ways over the course of the sample period, June 2010 through January 2011.

And, whereas Dore’s notaries public invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Sottile and Amy Washington spoke fairly freely.

At various points, Sottile said she wasn’t absolutely sure a signature was Menchel’s.

“No, but I trust Dan enough, you know, to have signed that,” Sottile said. That prompted Special Master Elizabeth Ritter, who had originally reviewed the firm’s documents for irregularities, to ask whether much of the foreclosure processing there at Friedman & MacFadyen was based on trust.

“Yes, ma’am,” Sottile responded.

On more than one occasion, Menchel said he could not provide an answer to Pierson’s or Ritter’s questions. But he did not want to leave the judge with a bad impression.

“This is not a chop shop robo-signing,” Menchel testified. “I regret that the high-speed signing of my name may vary.”

Even though Menchel left a signature line blank after stamping his printed name, Washington notarized it. He routinely signed for MacFayden without noting that he was signing on his colleague’s behalf.

“This one’s hard to square with all the others,” Pierson said of one signature.

MacFayden, who was representing Menchel at the proceeding, objected, saying Menchel had already affirmed that they were all his signatures. But Pierson wanted an answer and MacFayden backed down.

“This was just more rushed, for lack of a better word,” Menchel said.

That was the second time Pierson asked Menchel to jot down two or three of his signatures for inclusion in the case files.

Thursday’s proceeding was civil, although Menchel certified many of the documents under the penalty of perjury.

Howard and Amber Newton were the only homeowners of the 13 on Thursday’s docket to show up to watch and participate in the hearing.

“I think that guy was telling a bunch of plain-out lies,” Howard Newton, 48, said after Menchel testified about his signatures in the Newtons’ case. “I think he had someone else do the dirty work.”