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Foreclosure challenges resolved quickly at Montgomery Co. hearing

ROCKVILLE — Attorneys have gotten the message that it is better to dismiss foreclosure proceedings if they didn’t personally sign their names to the documents, Judge John W. Debelius III said Wednesday.

“People have dismissed rather than come to a show cause and explain inappropriate behavior,” said Debelius, the administrative judge in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Debelius offered that as an explanation for the expeditious handling of show-cause hearings in his Rockville courthouse. They are handled by a special master in a conference room rather than in a courtroom proceeding, as is often done in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The Court of Appeals in October called for circuit court show-cause hearings after attorneys at two separate law firms acknowledged having had others sign their names to foreclosure documents and having the signatures improperly notarized. The attorneys, who represented lending institutions, filed “corrective affidavits” in the foreclosure proceedings.

The top court adopted an emergency rule telling trial judges to appoint special masters and hold show-cause hearings whenever signatures appeared suspicious.

That directive has had a profound effect on attorneys who now keenly understand that they must sign documents themselves and have them properly notarized, Debelius said.

“These firms have cleaned up their procedures considerably,” he said. “They’re not treating [foreclosure] as an assembly line. They’re treating it as an actual legal proceeding.”

Still, the show-cause hearings in the Montgomery County courthouse ran with assembly-line efficiency Wednesday, as Special Foreclosure Master Richard Ross conducted two separate hearings, each lasting no longer than 15 minutes.

In one case, attorney Richard J. Rogers said he would dismiss without prejudice two foreclosure proceedings his firm initiated, amid allegations affidavits in those cases had been improperly notarized. Rogers is with Cohn, Goldberg & Deutsch LLC in Towson.

In the other case, attorney Erik Yoder acknowledged he did not sign a post-foreclosure-sale affidavit, though the document bore his name in both print and cursive.

“That is not my signature, but I am adopting that as my signature here today,” Yoder told Ross. The special master, noting the signature occurred post-sale, said he would recommend to Debelius that he not disturb the sale if a corrective affidavit is submitted soon.

The Montgomery County court’s show-cause hearings are “a lot shorter” than those in Baltimore, said Yoder, whose firm — Fairfax, Va.-based Shapiro & Burson LLP — was subjected to a day-long grilling last week in Baltimore over the signing scandal and is due back in that courthouse Monday.

“These are fairly quick and to the point,” he said of the Montgomery County proceeding.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson, who has been presiding over the court’s show-cause hearings, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon as he was rushing to an appointment.

Ross, a retired real estate attorney, said he has been conducting show-cause hearings at the Rockville courthouse nearly every Wednesday for about 20 weeks now. None of the hearings has been held in a courtroom, the special master added.

Ross said he could not explain why the Montgomery County court has been able to handle show cause hearings quickly in a conference room while Baltimore City court proceedings are generally held in a courtroom and take longer.

“I haven’t been there, so I don’t know what goes on,” Ross said. “I don’t know what the atmosphere is there.”

Ross added that he appreciates the relative quiet.

“There have not been any pyrotechnics at all,” he said of the hearings he has handled. “It has been very civilized.”