Steven J. Baum P.C.: What goes around do come around…
Or so the law firm of Steven J. Baum P.C. is learning the big, ugly, hellacious hard way.
is was a NY-based foreclosure law firm mill famously outed by The NY Times Joe Nocera in a recent op-ed piece in which he reported on the firm’s 2010 Halloween party. At that now-infamous event, a number of employees dressed as foreclosed upon homeowners, and the overall office was done up with a homeless-squatter theme. My first superficial thought was there’s no such thing as a par-tay without pictures anymore. No more the days when Ray-with-the-lampshade-on-his-head and Dora-peeing-in-her-manager’s-wastebasket were just office lore, oral tradition handed down from one company party to the next. These days, if you do something foolish-heartless-thoughtless-craven-embarrassing-etc., and you do it in front of another human being, IT’S ALIVE! And IT’S ALIVE FOREVER!
My first real thought is that this is certainly a show of inordinately bad taste, and a stunning lack of empathy. And that the individuals shown will –one might hope – have the decency to some day rue the day and feel just a tiny bit ashamed by such a ghastly lack of feeling. A billion years ago, a bunch of us came to a company Halloween party dressed as dead products. I believe I went as an XSIM manual. Did I hurt the dead product manager’s feelings? Or the feelings of the techies that wrote XSIM? If so, I’m sorry. It did seem funny at the time. And it really annoyed a couple of folks in senior management – a true plus! But it’s one thing to make fun of a dead product, quite another to make fun of the poor and downtrodden, especially when it’s their backs that you’re making your living off of.
Still, perhaps because of my sordid dead-product-scorning past, I do want to give at least some Baum employees the benefit of the doubt – even those in the pictures. Maybe they were just whistling past the grave. Nonetheless, it does sound as if the overall tenor of the place was disdain for the poor souls who got in over their head with under the water mortgages. As the ex-Baum employee who supplied Nocera with the incriminating snapshots told him:
… the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose.
In the wake of Nocera’s column, both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae blacklisted the firm.
And now the firm is closing and laying off all its employees.
This is not necessarily a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, where Nocera’s column is the hoc. (Notwithstanding that Steven Baum himself is apparently fingering Nocera as the cause of his firm’s demise.)
The authorities have been on to Baum for a while. They’re under investigation by the NY State A.G., and the firm:
…recently agreed to pay $2 million to resolve an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether the firm had “filed misleading pleadings, affidavits, and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts in New York.” (In the press release announcing the settlement, Baum acknowledged only that “it occasionally made inadvertent errors.”)
And now they’re completely out of business. And that sounds like it’s about right. (Not that I wish that these newly unemployed will lose their homes just because they lose their jobs. There’s plenty enough misery going around already without adding to it, even if there is that delicious possible connection between punishment and crime.)
Anyway, it’s pretty disgusting that those who profit from the necessary evil of foreclosure law aren’t capable of showing some compassion for those kicked to the curb.
Sure, a lot of those foreclosed upon were just plain dumb. Although maybe ignorant is a better term. If some bucket-shop mortgage company is telling you that your $40K salary can buy you a $400K house – and that $400K house is the American dream, baby - it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you’re good to go. “They” wouldn’t give you the mortgage if “they” didn’t think you could pay it back, would “they”?
In fact, a lot of those “theys” didn’t give a rat’s ass if you were ever going to be able to pay it back. “They” just wanted to pass go, collect their fee, and flip that flimsy piece of paper to someone else who didn’t give a rat’s ass if you were ever going to be to pay it back. And so on.
Over the years, I’ve met quite a few folks who are homeless. And you know what? Most of them aren’t all that different from the rest of us. (If I weren’t an atheist, here’s where I’d say “there but for the grace of God go I.”)
Yes, many of the ones I’ve known have made some bad choices. No one made them rob a bank, sell dope, get drunk. But they’ve also had more than their ration of bad luck: dysfunctional families, mental health problems, extreme poverty. (I met one fellow – a man in his thirties – who was barely literate. He’d grown up in South Carolina and, as a child, had been kept out of school for months at a time – beginning at age seven – to pick cotton. This would have been in the 1980’s, not the 1920’s.)
And now to the ranks of the chronic homeless are added millions of people who’d been living at the edge but who are now living out of their cars. And for them, the bad luck they’ve had far outweighs the bad choices.
Sure, a lot of the folks who’ve lost their home to foreclosure likely made some bad choices along the way – they didn’t think ahead, they didn’t ask the right questions, they didn’t plan for a rainy day, they grabbed for a brass ring thinking it was gold and finding out it was plastic, they figured that the housing prices just move in one direction – so why not take a second mortgage to buy that boat.
But with the collapse of the economy, with its disproportionate impact on blue collar families for whom jobs have just disappeared – gone, poof! – bad luck becomes more of a determinant of who ends up living out of their car and eating overcooked pasta in church basements.
And for someone to glory in (after rapaciously profiting from) that bad luck is just plain shameful.
So good luck to the Baum alumni who find themselves so newly unemployed.
There may be a few scum-bucket foreclosure mills that would be happy to scoop up folks with Baum experience on their c.v.’s. Other employees will no doubt plead the good German defense. But the days when the ability to churn out hundreds of robo-signed foreclosure notices a week is not really going to look like a good thing on anyone’s résumé, is it?
What goes around does tend to come around.
Labels: bad business behavior