ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s highest court on Tuesday approved an emergency rule designed to identify and weed out irregularities in the mortgage foreclosure process.
The new rule, which takes effect immediately, allows circuit courts to appoint independent lawyers to review foreclosure documents for problems. If a problem with the lender’s paperwork is detected, it has 30 days to show — at its own expense — why the foreclosure should not be dismissed.
Judges may also summon lawyers and notaries public into court when the authenticity of a signature or the veracity of an attestation to the accuracy of a document’s contents is in question.
While the changes may seem far-reaching, retired Judge Alan M. Wilner, head of the committee that drafted the new rule and presented it to the Court of Appeals, said the rule simply consolidates existing powers.
Judges have “the inherent authority” to require attorneys to answer questions regarding their affidavits and to “show cause” why a case, including a foreclosure action, should not be dismissed, he told the court.
The rule merely provides “a template for the courts to follow,” added Wilner, who chairs the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.
In addition, passing the rule will put the high court’s “imprimatur” on it and make clear to litigants, lawyers and the public that foreclosure documents will be scrutinized, he said.
Lawyers who are appointed to scrutinize the documents (known as special masters) can do so on a pro bono or no-cost basis, but only if they agree to do so, the rule provides.
‘The proverbial iceberg’
The adoption of the rule followed revelations that attorneys in at least two Maryland law firms had not personally signed affidavits that bear their names in foreclosure proceedings. Notaries public who validated those signatures have had their commissions revoked by the Maryland secretary of state.
The questioned signatures that have come to light so far are merely “the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” and there are probably more, Wilner told the high court.
Such signatures are “at worst fraudulent, at best irregular,” and call into question the validity of a lender taking possession of a home and reselling it, Wilner said.
The two law firms currently implicated in the signature scandal are Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore PA in Towson and Bierman, Geesing, Ward & Wood LLC of Bethesda.
Attorneys Thomas P. Dore and Jacob Geesing subsequently filed corrective affidavits — that is, an admission that the lawyer whose signature appears on the document did not, in fact, sign it.
Neither Dore nor Geesing returned telephone messages seeking comments on the rule and on their corrective affidavits.
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