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Attorney suspended in robo-signing case

Another attorney connected to the robo-signing scandal during the foreclosure boom has been suspended from practicing law.

The Court of Appeals suspended George Jacob Geesing for 90 days. His suspension begins 30 days from Tuesday, when the sanction was issued.

Geesing had two employees who were not lawyers sign his name on foreclosure documents and had staff falsely notarize the filings. Geesing claimed he did not know the practice was illegal and when he found out, he reported himself to the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland.

Geesing’s sanction was the same as that given to Thomas Patrick Dore, an attorney who also had employees sign his name on affidavits in foreclosure actions. Dore, who worked for Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore P.A. in Hunt Valley, also said he did not realize his actions were illegal and self-reported his practices. He was sanctioned in August.

Dore and Geesing were part of a number of attorneys who had employees mass-sign foreclosure filings during the foreclosure boom after the 2008 economic crisis.

The Attorney Grievance Commission investigated the flood of filings, and the Court of Appeals adopted an emergency rule in fall 2010 to investigate the irregularities in the mortgage foreclosure process.

“The discipline imposed by the Court of Appeals is commensurate with Mr. Geesing’s misconduct and is consistent with our view of the appropriate sanction in light of the Court’s most recent ‘robo-signing’ decision,” Bar Counsel Glenn M. Grossman said in a statement.

The practice of falsely signing affidavits en masse is referred to as robo-signing. However, the term can also refer to mass producing foreclosure affidavits without checking the facts. The Court of Appeals clarified in its opinion that Geesing’s case deals with the former definition of the term.

Geesing and his attorney, Kathleen Howard Meredith of Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan P.C. in Pasadena, declined to comment.

While working for BWW Law Group LLC in Bethesda, Geesing had two non-lawyers sign his name on affidavits and other foreclosure filings, according to the Court of Appeals opinion. He then had notary staff members notarize the documents.

Geesing, who was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1988, had managed BWW Law’s foreclosure practice since 2008. Between August 2008 and November 2009, two non-lawyers signed Geesing’s name on almost all the firm’s foreclosure filings.

In fall 2009, mortgagers questioned five foreclosure actions from BWW Law, saying they were falsely notarized and not signed by Geesing.

Geesing claims he thought he could authorize staff members to sign documents for him if he adopted the signatures as his own. But, after meeting with an attorney when mortgagers filed motions to dismiss, he said he understood it was illegal to authorize staff to sign documents for him.

Geesing reported himself to the Attorney Grievance Commission, which filed a petition for disciplinary action against him in September 2012.

Afterward, he sent an email to the firm, saying he would no longer robo-sign. He also asked the firm to take his name off its title.

The firm also informed clients of the situation, and Geesing recommended that the mortgagees dismiss the foreclosure actions and refile them with documents he signed himself.

Almost all the clients consented, and Geesing filed the actions again. Each refiling cost about $2,500, totaling about an $140,000 expense for the firm. His conduct also caused the firm to lose three clients.

Geesing had a hearing before Montgomery County Circuit Judge Louise G. Scrivener on March 3, and the case went before the Court of Appeals for oral argument Oct. 31 this year.

The state’s top court took mitigating factors into account when deciding the sanction in the case. Geesing had no prior disciplinary record, reported himself, fully disclosed to the Attorney Grievance Commission, agreed to submit a joint findings of fact and showed remorse for dishonoring the legal profession.

The court, however, also considered aggravating factors — mainly that he had shown a pattern of misconduct and committed multiple offenses.

“As to the actual or potential injury that Geesing’s misconduct caused, Geesing’s misconduct negatively impacted the efficacy and efficient operation of the courts and the public’s perception of the legal profession,” Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote.

The Court of Appeals found Geesing had violated the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct by making false statements to a tribunal and violating rules regarding non-lawyer assistants and had engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Bar Counsel asked that Geesing be suspended for 90 days, while Geesing asked to only be reprimanded because he, unlike Dore, reviewed all foreclosure documents for accuracy before filing.

The court held that the proper sanction should mirror the one given in Dore’s case, holding that a 90-day suspension was appropriate for lawyers who robo-sign a mass amount of documents, but have no selfish motive, no prior disciplinary record, make good-faith efforts to rectify the wrong, fully disclose to the Attorney Grievance Commission, have good character and reputation and show remorse.

“Both here and in Dore — regardless of the affidavits’ substance — the lawyer filed affidavits that the lawyer knew (or should have known) to have been falsely notarized,” Watts wrote.

Judge Sally D. Adkins wrote a one-page concurring and dissenting opinion, stating that she agreed with the majority but argued Geesing was “less culpable” than Dore, since he reviewed the documents before filing. Adkins contended Geesing should only be suspended 60 days.

“When a lawyer reviews each affidavit and approves its specific content, the lawyer knows the substance, including exact detail, of what will be presented to the court as his oath,” Adkins wrote. “This differs qualitatively, in my view, from Dore’s more general delegation to non-lawyer office staff to sign his name on affidavits to be filed in court.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. George Jacob Geesing, No. 36, September Term 2012, Argued Oct. 31, 2013. Decided Dec. 3, 2013. Opinion by Watts, J. Concurring and dissenting opinion by Adkins, J.

Issue:

What is the appropriate sanction for an attorney who had non-lawyers mass-sign his name on foreclosure filings which staff members then falsely notarized?

Holding:

Because the attorney self-reported to the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland after discovering the practice was illegal and fully cooperated, the Court of Appeals held the appropriate sanction is a 90-day suspension.

Counsel:

James P. Botluk, Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, for petitioner; Kathleen Howard Meredith, Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan, P.C. in Pasadena, for respondent.

RecordFax 13-1203-20 (20 pages).