Ocwen asks judge to throw out securities fraud lawsuit
(Reuters) – Lawyers for mortgage servicer Ocwen Financial have asked a federal judge to toss a securities fraud lawsuit accusing it of misleading investors by hiding servicing misconduct and potential conflicts of interest in 2013 and 2014.
In a motion on Monday in a West Palm Beach federal court, Ocwen’s lawyers said they have produced over a million pages of documents in the long-running case and plaintiffs have still not been able to find evidence supporting their fraud claims. The lawyers asked for a judgment in Ocwen’s favor before trial.
Filed in 2014, the lawsuit accused Ocwen of artificially inflating the price of its shares by hiding the risk of regulatory action over its servicing practices.
Ocwen’s shares fell 27 percent in December 2014 when the company agreed to pay $150 million to resolve claims by New York’s Department of Financial Services of improper foreclosures and other servicing problems, the lawsuit said.
Based in West Palm Beach, Ocwen is one of the country’s largest mortgage servicers, with more than 1.5 million customers, according to its website.
The lawsuit seeks damages for investors who bought Ocwen’s stock between May 2013 and December 2014.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer David Kessler declined to comment. Lawyers for Ocwen could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the complaint, Ocwen falsely assured investors that it was complying with the government’s mortgage servicing guidelines and that its compliance set it apart from peers.
Specifically, Ocwen stated at a December 2013 investor presentation that it complied with the 2012 national mortgage settlement, an agreement between the U.S. government and five major banks accused of mortgage servicing abuses. Ocwen was not part of that settlement but had to abide by it after it acquired mortgages from the participating banks.
In reality, Ocwen’s servicing system was not able to accommodate the huge numbers of mortgages it acquired while complying with the settlement’s servicing requirements, the investors’ complaint said.
Ocwen also assured investors it had procedures in place to prevent conflicts of interest involving its then-chairman William Erbey, according to the complaint.
While serving as Ocwen’s chairman, Erbey also was a major shareholder in four mortgage-related businesses that he created and spun off from Ocwen, the lawsuit said. Ocwen failed to assure that Erbey recused himself from any transactions between Ocwen and Erbey’s related companies, the investors alleged.
In Monday’s motion, lawyers for Ocwen said the company’s statements that it complied with the settlement were true when they were made. Plaintiffs had cited potential violations found by the settlement’s monitor in December 2014, but that was one year after Ocwen made the compliance statement, the lawyers said.
Ocwen’s statements that it had practices in place to avoid conflicts of interest with Erbey’s related companies also were true, the lawyers said. Erbey recused himself on numerous occasions from transactions with related parties and those transactions were also reviewed by Ocwen’s board to ensure they were in the company’s best interest, the lawyers said.
The case is In re Ocwen Financial Corporation Securities Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 14-81057.
For the plaintiffs: David Kessler, Lee Rudy and Sharan Nirmul at Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check and Joshua Katz at Sallah Astarita & Cox
For the defendant: Jeffrey Hirsch at Greenberg Traurig and John Coffey at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
—- Index References —-
Company: GREENBERG TRAURIG LLP; KRAMER LEVIN NAFTALIS AND FRANKEL LLP
News Subject: (Crime (1CR87); Financial Fraud (1FI18); Fraud (1FR30); Funding Instruments (1FU41); Securities Law (1SE59); Social Issues (1SO05))
Industry: (Banking (1BA20); Consumer Finance (1CO55); Financial Services (1FI37); Investment Management (1IN34); Mortgage Banking (1MO85); Retail Banking Services (1RE38); Securities Investment (1SE57))
Region: (Americas (1AM92); Florida (1FL79); North America (1NO39); U.S. Southeast Region (1SO88); USA (1US73))
(NaturalNews) Oh, the theory of vaccines sounds great. Inject a tiny bit of the live virus into your blood so you can build antibodies and thus immunity against the “real deal” later. If that’s all there was to it, it could actually work. Then there’s the fear mongering that’s thoroughly “inflamed” and propagated by the press, pharma, and the medical doctors of quack Western medicine. This is where the real money is made. If you get measles you could die! If you get polio you’ll surely be paralyzed for life! If you get Zika, your baby’s head will be shrunken and deformed!
Yet, what if you found out today that the worst odds you or your children have of being infected with disease, disorder, and deformity exist in getting injected repeatedly with neurotoxins, genetically modified bacteria, live experimental strains of multiple viruses and pesticides? Consider this: not one single vaccine ever produced that is recommended by the CDC today has ever been proven safe or effective. Why? They don’t have to prove it. All they have to do is scare the living hell out of everyone using propaganda, and it’s worked for 75 years.
Presenting the 7 most dangerous vaccines injected into humans without any proof of safety or efficacy
#1. Gardasil HPV – Forget for a moment the fact that many girls who get the HPV vaccine beginning at age 9 for a sexually transmitted disease (diseases they don’t have) go into immediate anaphylactic shock and some into comas and die, and let’s just talk about the insane boatload of chemicals the manufacturers put in this concoction that belong nowhere in medicine, ever, especially that which is injected directly into muscle tissue and that which can penetrate the blood/brain barrier. Plus, remember to triple the amounts of these carcinogenic, dangerous, ludicrous chemical ingredients of Gardasil, because there are 3 of these toxic jabs required.
First we have sodium borate at 35mcg. Also known as “borax,” this is the main poisonous ingredient in boric acid that’s used to kill cockroaches. Is your little girl a cockroach? Is it coincidence that the side effects listed and reported with the Gardasil vaccine match those of sodium borate poisoning? No, it’s not a coincidence. Did you know that anything imported into the European Union that contains borax must carry a warning label stating, “May damage fertility” and “May damage the unborn child.” This is what America “recommends” for preteen and teenage girls who are just reaching the age of fertility. Unbelievable!
Then, Gardasil HPV contains aluminum at 225mcg, which causes nerve cell death and helps the vaccine chemicals enter the brain. Let’s not forget that Gardasil HPV contains polysorbate 80 at 50mcg. Polysorbate 80 is used as an emulsifier in foods, but when injected into animals (such as humans), causes rapid, unnatural growth of reproductive organs, causing sterility. This is population control through vaccines, just as Bill Gates once said at a TED conference would be ideal for reducing the world’s population by a few billion. Polysorbate 80 is what causes the anaphylactic shock and also causes cancer and birth defects, while we’re on that topic. Sorry, but there’s not enough time to talk about the sodium chloride at nearly 10mcg.
#2. Anthrax vaccine (biothrax) – The dreaded anthrax jab contains aluminum hydroxide, formaldehyde (yes, embalming fluid for the dead), and benzethonium chloride. In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry stated that aluminum hydroxide could be the primary cause of Gulf War Syndrome. Aluminum hydroxide causes apoptosis of motor neurons, leading to dementia. Go figure. Thousands of US soldiers given the mandatory anthrax jab are still sick or have died. It was never approved by the FDA, yet any soldier refusing it got dishonorably discharged, fines, and possible prison time. President Clinton’s executive order 13139 gave the DoD permission to experiment on the US military with the highly dangerous anthrax concoction.
#3. MMR II – Under Appendix B, listed on the CDC website, you can find the ingredients for the MMR (MMR-II), the combination vaccines that contain recombinant human albumin, sorbitol, hydrolized gelatin, chick (egg) embryo cell culture, human diploid lung fibroblasts, and fetal bovine serum, among other certain preservatives and chemical adjuvants. In the “ProQuad” version, or MMRV (w/vericella for chicken pox), they’ve added monosodium L-glutamate, neomycin, and MRC-5 cells. And although measles is a respiratory disease accompanied by an uncomfortable rash and fever illness that anyone with a normal immune system will likely survive, the media scares the public into getting jabbed with neurotoxins.
Sorbitol is a synthetic sweetener which metabolizes very slowly and aggravates IBS and gastrointestinal issues. Fetal bovine cow serum is extracted from cow skin and when injected causes connective tissue disorders, arthritis and lupus; also shortness of breath, low blood pressure, chest pain and skin reactions. Sodium chloride raises blood pressure and inhibits muscle contraction and growth. Human albumin is the protein portion of blood from pooled human venous plasma and when injected causes fever, chills, hives, rash, headache, nausea, breathing difficulty, and rapid heart rate. Injecting “pooled blood” can result in a loss of body cell mass and cause immunodeficiency virus infection, or contain SV40, AIDS, cancer or Hepatitis B from drug addicts. Still want that MMR vaccine? Didn’t think so.
#4. Swine Flu – This loaded nightmare hoax vaccine contains inactivated H1N1 virus propagated in embryonated chicken eggs. The multi-dose vials contain over 24mcg of mercury per .5 ml dose! The jab also contains antibiotics polymyxin and neomycin that annihilate good gut bacteria, making the immune system highly vulnerable to infection. Add in some fluid from chicken eggs and you have one of the most experimental jabs ever created and a hoax perpetuated by WHO, GSK and the CDC to profit in the billions.
#5. Polio – This psycho-jab contains inactivated monkey kidney cells, newborn calf serum, embalming fluid, antibiotics, and bovine albumin. Salk didn’t invent the cure for polio–he invented new strains of it by haphazardly combining several. Get the facts!
#6. Influenza vaccine (a.k.a. the flu shot) – Specifically, the “FluLaval” flu shot contains 25 mcg of mercury in one jab. The EPA safety limit for drinking water? Just 5 mcg. Do the math, then consider that shots bypass digestion, breathing, and skin filters. Common flu jabs also contain formaldehyde and polysorbate 80.
#7. RotaTeq for Rotavirus – Three oral doses of this Merck-made horror story cost about $200 and are mandated for about four million infants every year. Rotavirus vaccine contains 5 live strains, plus some fetal bovine serum and porcine circovirus–a volatile and dangerous virus that infects pigs. Side effects of RotaTeq? Difficulty breathing, vomiting and ear infection, followed by bloody stool. Then the intestines get blocked and twisted (known as intussusception) which can be deadly and requires surgery on infant’s intestines. Be sure and call your doctor right away if your child dies from RotaTeq.
When Abdul Ali Artan tried to run over a crowd of helpless students at Ohio State University, then got out of his car and slashed as many as he could with a butcher knife, media titans CNN, CBS and NBC treated it as an isolated incident.
Law enforcement, from the local level on up to the FBI, said they did not know what could have motivated the young Muslim student to act in such a premeditated, violent way against his fellow students on a chilly Tuesday morning in Columbus.
Artan, an 18-year-old freshman at OSU, had immigrated from his native Somalia through Pakistan, arriving in Columbus at the invitation of the U.S. government, which considered him a “refugee.”
But the media failed to connect any of the dots with a host of similar attacks on U.S. soil, let alone the even larger number of strikingly similar attacks in Europe committed by migrants from Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.
News outlets also failed to report that Columbus is America’s second-largest distribution point for Somali refugees after Minneapolis.
A simple perusal of some very recent history, roughly the previous 17 or 18 months, would have turned up the following incidents:
1. Chattanooga shooting: 24-year-old Muhammad Abdulaziz offers up mass shooting at Navy recruitment center, leaving five U.S. servicemen dead in July 2015. 2. University of California at Mercedknife attack: 18-year-old student Faisal Mohammad slashes students, teacher in November 2015, four wounded. 3. San Bernardino shooting: Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik attack office Christmas party, leaving 14 dead and several wounded in December 2015. 4. Orlando gay nightclub shooting: Omar Mateen on June 12, 2016, left 49 dead, 53 wounded. 5. Nazareth Mediterranean Restaurantknife attack: Mohamed Barry slashes diners in Columbus, Ohio, with machete in February 2016, four wounded. 6. St. Cloud Crossroads mall knife attack: Dahir Ahmad Adan seeks out non-Muslim shoppers with military-style knife on Sept. 17, 2016, 10 wounded. 7. Chelsea Manhattan bombing: Ahmad Rahimi plants pipe bombs that go off on Sept. 17, 29 wounded. 8. Ohio State knife/car attack: Abdul Ali Artan, rams his car into crowd of students, slashes them with butcher knife, 11 wounded, on Nov. 28.
A little further back, in 2013, the Boston Marathon bombing by the Tsarnaev brothers left three dead and more than 300 injured.
The one common denominator of all nine attacks is that each was carried out by Muslim immigrants or sons of Muslim immigrants.
And the last four attacks on the list – the knife attack at the restaurant in Columbus, the knife attack at the mall in St. Cloud, the bombing in Manhattan and the knife attack at OSU – were all carried out by Muslims who came to America through the United Nations refugee resettlement program overseen by the U.S. State Department. Three of the four used knives, a key component of global Islamic terror inspired by multiple verses in the Quran.
One of the primary responsibilities of any reputable journalist is to not only report the news of the day, but to report it in context. It is only through context that the consumers of the journalistic product can receive a full understanding of the events happening in the world around them. There was none of that going on Tuesday when the news broke of a knife attack on the campus of Ohio State. Not even the most-recent Muslim knife attack, carried out two months earlier by another Somali refugee in St. Cloud, was mentioned in connection with the Ohio story.
Why so little context? Why so little information about the refugee program and its recent failures to screen out bad apples?
Why do mainstream media, along with U.S. law enforcement, provide cover for the U.S. immigration system and the refugee program in particular?
The answer is clear, say several experts who follow the refugee program.
“Law enforcement and the media want to keep Americans in the dark about this threat,” says Pamela Geller, president of the American Defense Initiative who blogs at the Geller Report and authored the book “Stop the Islamization of America.”
“Law enforcement claims it’s to protect Muslims from a ‘backlash’ that never materializes,” Geller told WND. “The media is committed to dissembling about this threat.”
Geller revealed in an article several years ago that the Society of Professional Journalists has guidelines telling journalists never to associate Muslims or Islam with terrorism.
“They’re willfully lying to the public,” she said.
“They seem to be committed to a globalist multiculturalist agenda that involves bringing large numbers of Muslims into the country,” Geller added. “Connecting the dots would wake too many people up to what is happening.”
Perhaps most disappointing is the failure of Christian pastors and teachers to give any concrete, accurate information to their church flocks about what Islam teaches from the Quran and other Islamic texts.
“They have been indoctrinated with the idea that it would be ‘racist’ to do so,” Geller says.
“And they are committed as a matter of policy to denying that there is any jihad threat at all,” Spencer said. “With each attack, they explain it away and defend Islam. They claim it will alienate moderate Muslims if we speak about the motivating ideology behind this threat; they never explain why they think moderate Muslims would be offended by discussing understandings of Islam that they ostensibly reject.”
Fitna: The root of modern ‘Islamophobia’
Phil Haney, co-author of “See Something Say Nothing,” tracked the OSU story from the time it started breaking Tuesday morning.
“Underneath all this hand-wringing about why did he do it, he already said why he did it,” Haney told WND. “On his Facebook page he said he’s sick and tired of Muslims being killed in different parts of world, and that is fitna. It always comes back to fitna.”
“Fitna” is an Arabic term used in the Quran to describe a yoke of oppression, a trial or an injustice thrust upon the Muslim believers by the non-believers. The modern word for a fitna would be “Islamophobia.”
By continuing the politically correct policy of avoiding the issue behind each new terror attack, the mainstream media enable the Muslim leaders to further their teaching of young Muslims to feel like they are part of a persecuted minority in America.
“Islamophobia” has become such a prevalent theme, widely taught within the American Muslim community today, that we can expect more backlash from angry Muslims who have had their minds poisoned by this indoctrination, Haney says.
“This stifling emphasis dominates the mindset of American Muslims, and their social-political allies [on the left], and it prevents us from honestly and courageously addressing the true nature of a global ideology that aggressively promotes its agenda of supremacy,” Haney said.
“Anyone who attempts to move beyond the ‘Islamophobia’ mantra is reflexively labeled as a bigoted racist,” he added, “while the Muslim community enjoys immunity from any responsibility for its communal actions.”
Every day it seems, I read something about Judges in this Country, or someone contacts me about them, or I experience them first hand, or perhaps, one of the attorneys that I have worked with feels their wrath.
The judges hate pro se litigants. The judges hate foreclosure defense lawsuits. The judges hate almost everything and/or everyone, except their fellow judges, or people they knew while they were attorneys, or maybe their own families. It has come to the point, that I told someone the other day, we need to get rid of all govt., and all judges, and start anew.
I’m serious. Most people don’t encounter the crimes that the judges are committing. Or so I thought. I have read some things lately, where more and more people are noticing that unless you are a bank, an attorney on the judge’s good side, or a multi-billion dollar corporation, there is no justice for you in the US.
Read on, and see some of what I am talking about. I have added in parts of articles supporting what I am claiming. There will be links to the articles, so that you can see for yourself, where the information came from:
Judge William Kent’s preliminary ruling seemed like a first step toward compromise. Margaret and Stuart Besen, who agreed their marriage was beyond repair, would remain in their suburban Suffolk County house, living in separate rooms – and keeping away from each other – while sharing custody until a resolution could be reached.
But within weeks, the situation deteriorated. Stuart Besen, a politically connected attorney for the town of Huntington, had an anger problem, Margaret told authorities. The couple’s screaming matches left Margaret feeling intimidated and their children – a daughter, 11, and son, 7 – terrified, she said. So in August of that year she obtained an order of protection prohibiting Stuart from harassing her. Three weeks later, Stuart entered Margaret’s bedroom and hovered over her as she slept, she told police. They arrested him for violating the order, reporting that Stuart had stared down at Margaret with his arms folded on three consecutive nights. She got temporary possession of the family home.
In the years that followed, Besen’s hopes for an equitable settlement dwindled as she battled a series of harsh and hard-to-explain decisions against her. Though she could never prove anything, she suspected that the scales had tipped for reasons unrelated to the evidence in her case. If true, Besen faced what experts say is one of the most troubling threats to our nation’s system of justice: judges, who, through incompetence, bias or outright corruption, prevent the wronged from getting a fair hearing in our courts.
“The decorum and bias and the perfectly unethical behavior of the judges is really rampant,” said Amanda Lundergan, a defense attorney in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, who confronted a nest of judicial conflicts in her state’s rapid-fire foreclosure rulings – dubbed the “rocket-docket” – following the housing market collapse. “It’s judicial bullying.”
Judges in local, state and federal courts across the country routinely hide their connections to litigants and their lawyers. These links can be social – they may have been law school classmates or share common friends – political, financial or ideological. In some instances the two may have mutual investment interests. They might be in-laws. Occasionally they are literally in bed together. While it’s unavoidable that such relationships will occur, when they do create a perception of bias, a judge is duty-bound to at the very least disclose that information, and if it is creates an actual bias, allow a different judge to take over.
All too often, however, the conflicted jurist says nothing and proceeds to rule in favor of the connected party, while the loser goes off without realizing an undisclosed bias doomed her case.
Hundreds of judicial transgressions have been uncovered during the last decade, with results that cost the defeated litigants their home, business, custody, health or freedom.
But court critics say that one reason judicial violations are common is because they frequently go unpunished. When litigants ask a judge to back away because of a conflict, they risk being told no, then face possible retaliation, so many don’t bother. If a litigant or an attorney files a complaint with an oversight body, there’s only about a 10% chance that state court authorities will properly investigate the allegation, according to a Contently.org analysis of data from 12 states.
The analysis shows that a dozen of these commissions collectively dismissed out of hand 90% of the complaints filed during the last five years, tossing 33,613 of 37,216 grievances without conducting any substantive inquiry. When they did take a look – 3,693 times between 2010 and 2014 – investigators found wrongdoing almost half the time, issuing disciplinary actions in 1,751 cases, about 47%.
The actions taken ranged from a letter of warning to censure, a formal sanction that indicates a judge is guilty of misconduct but does not merit suspension or removal.
Actually removing a judge was a rarity. Just 19 jurists in 12 states were ordered off the bench for malfeasance, which is about three per decade for each state. And even that result is becoming less common, with only one removal in 2014 and three in 2013 among all 12 states.
The states examined – California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington, Georgia and South Carolina – were chosen because they comprise a representative sample from different populations and areas of the country and because they had matching data for the years 2010 through 2014.
Judicial discipline at the federal level is almost non-existent. A Contently.org examination of the most recent five years of complaint data shows that 5,228 grievances were lodged against federal jurists between 2010 and 2014, including 2,561 that specifically alleged bias or conflict of interest. But only three judges were disciplined during those years and each got the mildest rebuke on the books: censure or reprimand. None was suspended or removed.
Margaret won a court order of protection barring Stuart from contact with her children for a year. But when Kent issued his final decree less than six weeks later, he awarded Stuart full custody, while Margaret was allowed only supervised visits. And he ordered Margaret to pay back half the cost of her nursing degree and to sell her diamond engagement ring and split the proceeds with Stuart. The judge also reversed the support arrangements. While Stuart would pay $1,500 a month in maintenance to Margaret, she now owed Stuart $153.90 a week for the children, even though she was earning about $13,000 a year as a part-time aide in an assisted-living facility.
Margaret began to look into her husband’s dealings and discovered, through searching public records, that he and judge Kent had possible connections. In 2010, Stuart was appointed as the Suffolk County representative on a statewide commission for vetting local judicial candidates. That same year, an organization based at Stuart Besen’s Garden City law office, the Long Island Coalition for Responsible Government, donated $7,500 to candidate Richard Ambro, who got elected and became one of Kent’s fellow Supreme Court judges in Suffolk’s 10th district. In his role as Huntington’s town lawyer, Besen argued cases before these very judges. He’d entered a circle of judicial insiders.
“I’m in the middle of a large group of people who’ve got money and influence and who are all connected,” said Margaret Besen. “I’m not being afforded an opportunity to get a fair shake.”
Above: Margaret Besen stands in front of the former Besen family home, now unoccupied in Commack, Long Island. Photograph: Alan Chin
Margaret had no way of knowing whether the connections she uncovered played any role in how Kent ruled in her case. But her concern deepened when she made an additional discovery about her house. Kent had ordered the Besen home, the most valuable marital asset, to be sold and the proceeds divided, putting Margaret in line to receive possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then she found an online listing offering the property for sale – with the judge’s wife, Patricia Kent, as broker. The home, which was listed for $749,999 with Patricia Kent’s photo and contact information on Realty Connect USA, is currently more than $15,000 in arrears on its property taxes and no longer appears to be actively offered. Margaret was evicted from the house in 2013 and lives in a modest apartment a few miles away. She has yet to receive a penny for her interest in the property.
Scott L Cummings, a professor of legal ethics at UCLA law school, said the case raised “significant ethical red flags”, because of the judge’s wife’s alleged involvement in offering the Besen family home for sale. “Not knowing the details of how his spouse might have been assigned as broker, the idea that a judge might benefit financially from the sale of a property in dispute in a pending matter seems to raise a serious question of impartiality.”
Ronald Rotunda, a professor at Chapman University law school in Orange, California, said: “What judge Kent did here seems odd. The husband makes over a half million a year, she makes $13,000 a year, and the judge orders her to pay child support (which is tax free to him and not deductible for her).”
But a culture of judicial impunity extends far beyond Long Island’s county courts. Indeed, even the US supreme court has been tarnished on this issue.
Justice Steven Breyer owned $215,000 in health-care stocks when deciding on the legality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012. Justice Samuel Alito’s portfolio included $2,000 in stock in The Walt Disney Co. in 2008, the year the court heard Disney, FCC v. Fox Television Stations. And perhaps most famously, justice Antonin Scalia has participated in the Bush v. Gore case, even though his son Eugene’s law firm represented one of the parties. In another case, Scalia remained in the panel despite having gone on a duck hunting trip with former Vice-President Dick Cheney while he was being sued to reveal the details of secret meetings he held with oil company executives in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The online vitriol directed at unscrupulous judges, which began in the mid- 2000s, has built to a howling digital crescendo. Websites including The Robe Probe, The Judiciary Report and The Robing Room, which rate judges the way Yelp rates restaurants, are rife with railing as embittered, mostly anonymous plaintiffs rip into judicial decisions they feel were biased or corrupt.
In an appeal of a case in West Virginia court, A.T. Massey Coal Co. CEO Don Blankenship spent $3m to elect Brent Benjamin, who ultimately provided the swing vote that overturned a $50m judgment against his company. Benjamin rebuffed repeated demands that the newly elected justice recuse himself because of his obvious conflict.
The US Supreme Court ruled that Benjamin’s bias was so extreme that his failure to step aside violated Caperton’s right to due process under the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. The case, which spawned Grisham’s 2008 best-seller, “The Appeal,” underscored the kind of underhanded dealing that has stained the judiciary.
A further nudge for reform came last year when the Center for Public Integrity published a report on financial conflicts of interest. Among its findings: on 26 occasions in the preceding three years, federal appellate judges ruled on cases involving companies in which they owned stock or where they had a financial tie to an attorney appearing before them.
A further nudge for reform came last year when the Center for Public Integrity published a report on financial conflicts of interest. Among its findings: on 26 occasions in the preceding three years, federal appellate judges ruled on cases involving companies in which they owned stock or where they had a financial tie to an attorney appearing before them.
It also created a grading system to gauge how diligent each state was in collecting personal financial information from its judges, including stock ownership and outside sources of income, and how accessible that data was to the public. The center said that 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, failed its test. Six others earned a D grade, while two – California and Maryland – got Cs. California’s score, 77, the highest of any state, was seven points below the federal government’s grade of 84.
The report highlighted the type of conflict that can be most readily identified and that doing so requires full disclosure from the judges. Stock ownership, even if minimal, should automatically disqualify a judge from hearing a case, many experts believe. “If a judge owns a single share in a company involved in a case, he should recuse himself instantly,” says Rotunda, a leading law scholar.
It’s been more than two years since Margaret Besen has seen her children, who are now 12 and 16. There’s no money to pay the court supervisor, so they can’t visit. Nor does Besen have the funds to continue fighting. Kent retired shortly after making his decision.
“The hardest thing in my life is that I can’t be with my children and I can’t have an impact on my children’s upbringing,” Besen said over coffee at a Long Island diner. “A lot of people do not have any idea how the judicial system works or doesn’t work until you’re in it. We think we’re in a democratic society. We think we’re run by rules. But they are not being upheld by the court at all.”
In recent years, America’s corporations have created a private system for handling disputes that benefits them greatly while denying consumers their day in court.
Worse, according to a recent series in The Times, that system has become vast and more entrenched as companies increasingly require customers, employees, investors, patients and other consumers to agree in advance to arbitrate any disputes that arise in their dealings with a company, rather than sue in a court of law.
Such forced-arbitration clauses, found in the fine print of contracts, also typically bar aggrieved parties from pressing their claims as a group in a class action, often the only practical way for individuals to challenge corporations. In addition, corporations effectively control the arbitration process, including the selection of the arbitrator and the rules of evidence, a stacked deck if ever there was one.
As if that is not troubling enough, it is extremely difficult to avoid or get out of forced-arbitration clauses and class-action bans, particularly since they were upheld by two misguided Supreme Court decisions in 2011 and in 2013.
From 2010 to 2014, corporations prevailed in four out of five cases where they asked federal judges to dismiss class-action lawsuits and compel arbitration, according to The Times’s articles. People who were blocked from going to court as a group usually dropped their claims entirely, in part because class actions are often the only affordable way to file lawsuits. If successful, they can deter future corporate wrongdoing because even small payouts, multiplied over all similarly mistreated customers, can be very large.
Indeed, faced with arbitration, it appears that most people do not pursue remedies to their grievances at all. Verizon, with more than 125 million subscribers, faced 65 consumer arbitrations between 2010 and 2014, The Times’s report found. Sprint, with more than 57 million subscribers, faced six. Time Warner Cable, with 15 million subscribers, faced seven.
Even more disturbing, the shift away from the civil justice system has gone beyond disputes about money. Nursing homes, obstetrics practices and private schools increasingly use forced-arbitration clauses to shield themselves from being taken to court over alleged discrimination, elder abuse, fraud, hate crimes, medical malpractice and wrongful death.
For the most part, Congress has looked the other way. Federal regulators, however, are starting to fight back. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is expected to propose a rule soon to forbid arbitration clauses that ban class actions in cases involving financial services and products. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is expected to issue updated nursing home regulations next year, is considering a ban on forced arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts.
Reversing the broader trend of forced arbitration, however, will require public outcry loud and long enough to stir the White House and Congress to action. Many people interviewed in The Times’s series did not realize that their right to sue had been lost until they needed it. A common refrain was the disbelief that this could happen in America. But it is happening, and it needs to stop.
Everyone hates paying bank fees. But imagine paying fees on a ghost account you didn’t even sign up for.
That’s exactly what happened to Wells Fargo customers nationwide.
On Thursday, federal regulators said Wells Fargo (WFC) employees secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts — without their customers knowing it — since 2011.
The phony accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money.
“Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses,” Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in a statement.
Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that it had fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to the shady behavior. Employees went so far as to create phony PIN numbers and fake email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services, the CFPB said.
The scope of the scandal is shocking. An analysis conducted by a consulting firm hired by Wells Fargo concluded that bank employees opened over 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized.
The way it worked was that employees moved funds from customers’ existing accounts into newly-created ones without their knowledge or consent, regulators say. The CFPB described this practice as “widespread.” Customers were being charged for insufficient funds or overdraft fees — because there wasn’t enough money in their original accounts.
Additionally, Wells Fargo employees also submitted applications for 565,443 credit card accounts without their customers’ knowledge or consent. Roughly 14,000 of those accounts incurred over $400,000 in fees, including annual fees, interest charges and overdraft-protection fees.
The CFPB said Wells Fargo will pay “full restitutions to all victims.”
Wells Fargo is being slapped with the largest penalty since the CFPB was founded in 2011. The bank agreed to pay $185 million in fines, along with $5 million to refund customers.
“We regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request,” Wells Fargo said in a statement.
Wells Fargo has the highest market valuation among any bank in America, worth just north of $250 billion. Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA), the investment firm run legendary investor Warren Buffett, is the company’s biggest shareholder.
Of the total fines, $100 million will go toward the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund, $35 million will go to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and another $50 million will be paid to the City and County of Los Angeles.
“One wonders whether (the CFPB) penalty of $100 million is enough,” said David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor and former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It sounds like a big number, but for a bank the size of Wells Fargo, it isn’t really.”
Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that the 5,300 firings took place over several years. The bank listed 265,000 employees as of the end of 2015.
“At Wells Fargo, when we make mistakes, we are open about it, we take responsibility, and we take action,” the bank said in a memo to employees on Thursday.
The CFPB declined to comment on when the investigation began and what sparked it, citing agency policy. “We don’t comment on how we uncover these matters,” a spokesman said.
As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo needs to make changes to its sales practices and internal oversight.
Customers are fuming. Brian Kennedy, a Maryland retiree, told CNNMoney he detected an unauthorized Wells Fargo account had been created in his name about a year ago. He asked Wells Fargo about it and the bank closed it, he said.
“I didn’t sign up for any bloody checking account,” Kennedy, who is 57 years old, told CNNMoney. “They lost me as a banking customer and I have warned family and friends.”
“Consumers must be able to trust their banks,” said Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles City Attorney who joined the settlement.
Feuer’s office sued Wells Fargo in May 2015 over allegations of unauthorized accounts. After filing the suit, his office received more than 1,000 calls and emails from customers as well as current and former Wells Fargo employees about the allegations.
Wells Fargo declined to say when it hired a consulting firm to investigate the allegations. However, a person familiar with the matter told CNNMoney the bank launched the review after the L.A. lawsuit was filed.
Even though the Wells Fargo scandal took place nationally, the settlement with L.A. requires the bank to specifically alert all its California customers to review their accounts and shut down ones they don’t recognize or want.
“How does a bank that is supposed to have robust internal controls permit the creation of over a half-million dummy accounts?” asked Vladeck. “If I were a Wells Fargo customer, and fortunately I am not, I’d think seriously about finding a new bank.”
(Reuters) – Four Massachusetts churches on Tuesday filed a lawsuit asking to be exempted from a state law that requires public places to allow transgender people to use bathrooms in line with their gender identity.
Access to public bathrooms has become a flashpoint in the battle over transgender rights in the United States, after North Carolina earlier this year enacted a measure mandating that bathrooms and locker rooms be restricted according to a person’s biological gender.
The Horizon Christian Fellowship, the Swansea Abundant Life Assembly of God, the House of Destiny Ministries and the Faith Christian Fellowship of Haverhill filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in Massachusetts, arguing the law violates their constitutional rights to freedom of religious expression and free speech.
“The Churches’ policies and practices regarding access to their changing rooms and restrooms flow logically and directly from their religious beliefs concerning God’s design for biological sex,” the lawsuit said.
The law did not provide exemptions for religious organizations, with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office saying on its website that “houses of worship” are public places.
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction from the law for religious organizations and attorneys fees.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination were named as defendants in the case. Neither could be reached for comment on Tuesday night.
Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey’s office, told the MassLive news website the office would not comment on the lawsuit as they are still reviewing it.
Fennimore added however, “We are pleased that we finally have a law in place that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places. This law is about civil rights and is critical for people who were without full protection and equality under the law for too long.”
The lawsuit makes Massachusetts the latest battleground for transgender rights.
A U.S. judge in August blocked an Obama administration policy that public schools should allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice, granting a nationwide injunction sought by 13 dissenting states.
Meanwhile, lawmakers elsewhere have moved to expand protections for transgender people. Late last month California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill opening single-stall public restrooms to anyone, regardless of gender. The state already bars discrimination against transgender people, including in public bathrooms.
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Company: CITY OF HAVERHILL MASSACHUSETTS
News Subject: (Civil Rights Law (1CI34); Gay & Lesbian Issues (1GA65); Intellectual Freedoms & Civil Liberties (1IN08); Legal (1LE33); Social Issues (1SO05))
Region: (Americas (1AM92); Massachusetts (1MA15); North America (1NO39); U.S. New England Region (1NE37); USA (1US73))
Other Indexing: (Destiny Ministries; Jillian Fennimore; Lucy NicholsonA; Jerry Brown; Lucy Nicholson; Maura Healey)
A North Georgia newspaper publisher was indicted on a felony charge and jailed overnight last week – for filing an open-records request.
Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason, along with his attorney Russell Stookey, were arrested on Friday and charged with attempted identity fraud and identity fraud. Thomason was also accused of making a false statement in his records request.
Thomason’s relentless pursuit of public records relating to the local Superior Court has incensed the court’s chief judge, Brenda Weaver, who also chairs the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. Weaver took the matter to the district attorney, who obtained the indictments.
Thomason was charged June 24 with making a false statement in an open-records request in which he asked for copies of checks “cashed illegally.” Thomason and Stookey were also charged with identity fraud and attempted identity fraud because they did not get Weaver’s approval before sending subpoenas to banks where Weaver and another judge maintained accounts for office expenses. Weaver suggested that Thomason may have been trying to steal banking information on the checks.
But Thomason said he was “doing his job” when he asked for records.
“I was astounded, in disbelief that there were even any charges to be had,” said Thomason, 37, who grew up in Fannin County. “I take this as a punch at journalists across the nation that if we continue to do our jobs correctly, then we have to live in fear of being imprisoned.”
Thomason and Stookey are out on $10,000 bond and have a long list of things they cannot do or things they must do to avoid going to jail until their trials. On Thursday, for example, Thomason reported to a pretrial center and was told that he may have to submit to a random drug test – a condition of the bond on which he was released from jail last Saturday.
Alison Sosebee, district attorney in the three counties in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, and Judge Weaver say the charges are justified. Weaver said she resented Thomason’s attacks on her character in his weekly newspaper and in conversations with her constituents.
“I don’t react well when my honesty is questioned,” Weaver said.
She said others in the community were using Thomason to get at her. “It’s clear this is a personal vendetta against me,” she said. “I don’t know how else to explain that.”
But legal experts expressed dismay at the punitive use of the Open Records Act.
“To the extent these criminal charges stem from the use of the Open Records Act undermines the entire purpose of the law,” said Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “The Open Records Act is the vehicle by which citizens access governmental information Retaliation for use of the Open Records Act will inhibit every citizen from using it, and reel us back into the dark ages.”
Another expert said the charges against attorney Russell Stookey may also be unfounded. Robert Rubin, president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said it was wrong for the grand jury to indict a lawyer who “is using the legitimate court process for a subpoena to get records relevant for his case.” The dispute grows out of a March 2015 incident involving another judge who is no longer on the bench. Judge Roger Bradley was presiding over several cases and asked the name of the next defendant. The assistant district attorney announced next up was “(Racial slur) Ray.” Bradley, who resigned earlier this year, repeated the slur and also talked about another man whose street name started with the same slur.
Thomason asked for the transcript after he was told courtroom deputies also used the slur.
But the transcript only noted that Bradley and the assistant district attorney used the word.
According to Thomason, the court reporter told him that it was “off the record” when others in the courtroom spoke the word so it would not be recorded in the transcript. He asked to listen to the audio recording, but his request was rejected.
In an article Thomason quoted the court reporter as saying the slur was not taken down each time it was used.
And then Thomason asked Stookey to file paperwork with the court to force the the stenographer, Rhonda Stubblefield, to release the recording.
Stubblefield responded with a $1.6 million counterclaim against Thomason, accusing him of defaming her in stories that said the transcript she produced may not be accurate. Two months later a visiting judge closed Thomason’s case, concluding that Thomason had not produced evidence the transcript was inaccurate.
Last April, Stubblefield dropped her counterclaim because, her lawyer wrote, it was unlikely Thomason could pay the award if she won.
The next month, however, Stubblefield filed paper work to recoup attorney’s fees even though last last year she was cut a check for almost $16,000 from then-Judge Bradley’s operating account.
“She was being accused of all this stuff. She was very distressed. She had done absolutely nothing wrong,” Weaver said of the judges’ decision to use court money to cover Stubblefield’s legal expenses. “She was tormented all these months and then had to pay attorneys’ fees. And the only reason she was sued was she was doing what the court policy was.”
Stubblefield’s lawyer, Herman Clark, said in court Stubblefield was asking for the money from Thomason or his attorney so she could replace the funds taken out of the court bank account. Clark said it was unfair to expect taxpayers to pick up the cost.
To fight Stubblefield’s claim for legal fees, Stookey filed subpoenas for copies of certain checks so he could show her attorneys had already been paid. One of those two accounts listed in a subpoena had Weaver’s name on it as well as the Appalachian Judicial Circuit.
Weaver said the identify fraud allegations came out of her concern that Thomason would use the banking information on those checks for himself.
“I have absolutely no interest in further misappropriating any government monies,” Thomason said. “My sole goal was to show that legal fees were paid from a publicly funded account.”