Give Me Back My Credit: Excerpt
The Spin Cycle; Anatomy of a mortgage servicing nightmare
We walked into the courtroom and I sat quietly behind my attorneys on the right side of the court room. On the left sat the Defendants' attorneys and their entourage sat squarely behind them to my left. We all stood as the judge entered the room. He began by addressing the defendants, asking them to recite what happened and how this case got before him. Fleet's attorney stood up and began reciting his version of events nonchalantly. He said something similar to "Well, your honor, we did this . . . and then unfortunately we did this....and unfortunately we did this and unfortunately this happened." I don't think he had even gotten to the part where they sold the non-existent mortgage to a collection agency when the judge heard him utter one too many "unfortunately(s)." He abruptly pushed back his chair and threw both hands in the air, straight up into thin air.
"Ms. Richardson's stress level had to be off the scales" he proclaimed. Yes, that is exactly what he said. I will never forget his exact words because it was at that precise moment I felt a small sense of validation and understanding. Finally, someone who mattered -"got it". He knew how I felt! Tears silently streamed down my face. I wasn't making any noise but my cheeks were full of tears, as if someone had turned on a water faucet. I had no control of them.
Suddenly, the judge's eyes met mine, and quickly turned away to Alan and Larry.
"Is that the Plaintiff sitting behind you?" he asked.
"Yes, your honor," one of them responded.
"I would like to meet with you and your client in my chambers and then I will meet with you," he said, turning a stern eye towards the defendants' table.
We all stood and silently moved toward his chambers.
The judge relayed he couldn't help but notice how emotional I was. He further offered to assist in ending this apparent hell I had been going through. He relayed that he had hopes he could "get a number" from me that I had in mind to settle -walk away -take my life back.
He could then take that figure to the Defendants, to see if they would accept it. I remember it only brought opened the flood gates and brought on more tears. I told the judge I didn't want to settle. I had no "figure" in my head. I felt strongly that since I had made it this far, I wanted to move forward. I didn't understand why I couldn't have my day in court so that I could eventually claim both the justice and case-law that I knew would be helpful to so many other victims to follow me.
The judge told me I could in fact move on to trial. No, he wasn't there to force me into a settlement, but rather, he thought perhaps if we all spoke we could find a way to end this nightmare now and prevent more pain and more duress brought about by a full lengthy courtroom battle. The judge left us in his chambers and went back to the courtroom to talk to the defendants and their attorneys, instructing us to wait where we were, and he would return shortly. When he returned, it was with the news that they had made an offer to settle. He told me the secret "number" and my attorneys thought I needed to consider it quite seriously. I did not.
I was still incredibly reluctant, to say the least, to settle and soon I would learn that my attorneys and the judge had one other little card to lie down, and one I had never heard of before. Card number: 68
known in the Federal Judicial System as Rule 68. Rule 68 basically
mandates that if a defendant makes a valid, written offer of settlement
and a plaintiff declines it, that plaintiff could end up being
penalized for not accepting that offer. What? Why? Yep, that's the
truth. You see, according to good ole Rule 68, if the defendant makes
a written offer to settle, and the plaintiff doesn't accept that offer,
and that offer turns out to be more than what an actual jury awards,
the plaintiff could then be held responsible for court costs and
attorneys fees--from the date of that written offer until the date the
jury trial is over.
All of a sudden, the case resembled a "game" -one not unlike poker. I felt the need to consult a good crystal ball when making this crucial, life-altering decision.
When contemplating this Rule, consumers
are basically choosing whether or not they should gamble on how much
the jury will award and whether that will be more than the defendant
offered. This doesn't seem like a fair and equitable judicial system,
it sounds more like the game show "Deal or No Deal?"
What happened to justice for all and our Constitutional right to a jury of our peers? It's difficult enough to get into a courtroom, to fight for case law that (that has real teeth) and deter companies from doing the same thing all over to others. It was case-law I was after. Justice and accountability is what kept me going. I didn't want any part of another secret settlement. Much like my previous Settlement Agreement, the merits of the case and all the abuses would remain forever secret. What good did that do for others fighting the same battle? It wouldn't help expose a pattern of abuse. The mortgage, banks and credit reporting industries, on the other hand, don't want case law--they would rather settle, sweep their wrongdoings under the proverbial rug and move on--without a trail of any pesky case law trailing them. Rule 68, however, gives them a big hedge. The gamble isn't on their money or their livelihood. It is fully on the victim's shoulders and on that of their family.
Much to the chagrin of my husband as well as both Larry and Alan (and probably the Judge as well), I opted to move toward trial. It was a simple decision for me considering my passion about the situation, but I was betting it wasn't so simple for them to understand.
"Okay," the Judge said, "let's go out and let them know you want to move toward trial and we'll schedule your pre-trial dates for motions and Discovery."
As we all walked out of chambers and took a seat, I could clearly see the shock on their corporate faces. I found out later from Alan -they were seething. They were expecting the judge to come back to them with yet another offer and thought that would be the end of the matter. They heard the judge's tone and thought this would come to an end, or at least hoped it would.
We were all standing again and the judge left us to set up all the details of the pre-trail process.
As we stood, I heard Fleet's attorney say, "Okay, let's get some dates set up for depositions."
His dismay was quite noticeable because his face was bright red, his teeth were clenched and his tone became noticeably irritated and somewhat intimidating.
"Well, we're going to need several dates for Mrs. Richardson. Let's block off entire days and, oh yes, we will need her daughter's address as we plan to depose her. Also her therapist, Mr. Richardson and also Ms. Richardson's primary care Doctor will have to give depositions as well."
He angrily snapped the latches of his briefcase shut. He then looked at me sternly, attempting to wound, as he said, "We will be doing a motion to obtain her hard drive as well."
I kept my game face on. I refused to show them how incensed I was that they were threatening to use my daughter, my hard-drive and therapist as if they were weapons. As if I couldn't see they were clearly and purposely taking this hard-line stand to bully and browbeat me. His actions were clearly saying, you want to play hard ball? We'll play hard ball.
I sighed. This is how it's going to be, I thought, be tough and don't show them they can get to you. I smiled and managed to vocalize the word; "Great!"