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Court weighs sanctions on foreclosure lawyer

ANNAPOLIS — Attorney G. Jacob Geesing should be reprimanded rather than suspended for authorizing employees to sign and notarize his name on 2,500 foreclosure-related affidavits, because he had thoroughly reviewed the documents beforehand and could vouch for their accuracy, Geesing’s lawyer told Maryland’s top court Thursday.

“There was no intentional dishonesty here,” Kathleen Howard Meredith told the Court of Appeals. “He did not appreciate that what he was doing was wrong.”

Judge Lynne A. Battaglia appeared skeptical, noting that each document stated it was notarized in Geesing’s presence.

“That was totally untrue,” Battaglia said.

In response, Meredith said Geesing had misinterpreted that statement as “just an affirmation that the responsible person for the signature” was him.

“Mr. Geesing was at all times responsible for these signatures,” said Meredith, of Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan P.C. in Pasadena. “What he failed to consider was the language in the attestations.”

Geesing’s failure to sign the notarized documents came to light when attorneys who represented several foreclosed homeowners noticed differences in the signatures and moved for dismissal of the foreclosure cases. Geesing, of BWW Law Group in Bethesda, then signed and filed “corrective affidavits” with the courts.

The corrective affidavits — which acknowledge that someone else signed the lawyer’s name to the document — did not assuage the concerns of the Attorney Grievance Commission and its Office of Bar Counsel, which investigates and, if reason is found, urges the Court of Appeals to sanction lawyers for ethical violations.

In an unrelated case, Thomas P. Dore, of Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore P.A. in Hunt Valley, also had employees sign and notarize his name and later filed corrective affidavits. In an opinion published Aug. 20, the high court found he had violated ethical rules barring attorneys from making false statements to a court and suspended him for 90 days.

On Thursday, Assistant Bar Counsel James P. Botluk said Geesing deserves the same sanction as Dore for a similar “pattern of falsity.”

But Meredith pressed for a reprimand — the lightest of professional sanctions — arguing that Geesing, unlike Dore, had personally reviewed the foreclosure documents before having employees sign and notarize his name. Also, Meredith said, Dore’s use of surrogate signers lasted for more than two years, ending in April 2010, while Geesing’s lasted only about 15 months, from August 2008 to November 2009.

But Judge Sally D. Adkins, who wrote the high court’s majority opinion in the Dore case, on Thursday called the time span of unethical behavior irrelevant “once you get a critical mass of cases.”

Revelations of the bogus signatures prompted the Court of Appeals in October 2010 to adopt an emergency rule designed to identify and weed out irregularities in the mortgage foreclosure process.

The rule allows circuit courts to appoint independent lawyers to review foreclosure documents for problems. Judges may summon lawyers and notaries public into court when the authenticity of a signature is in question.

Meredith noted this burden on courts in acknowledging that her client’s actions have led to a “consumption of valuable judicial resources” and “generated significant adverse publicity to the legal profession.”

Notaries in the Geesing and Dore cases resigned their commissions under an agreement with the state.

The Court of Appeals is expected to decide Geesing’s fate by Aug. 31. The case is Attorney Grievance Commission v. George Jacob Geesing, Misc. AG 36, September Term 2012.