Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who is among the most vocal members of Congress on foreclosure issues, said he was eager to see a settlement that would help homeowners, but he shares the New York attorney general's concerns that more investigation into the behavior of banks is needed before "letting them off the hook" for future liability.

"We need to proceed very cautiously," Cummings said. "I think there's still work to be done."

Daniel Mintz, MoveOn's campaign director, said local members who met with Gansler in December felt he was sympathetic to their position that "what was needed was an investigation."

"At the same time, he talked about the difficulties of a single state sort of going it alone," Mintz said.

If the Maryland attorney general's office is in the middle of any investigations of its own, it's not saying. Unlike some attorneys general, Gansler has a policy of neither confirming nor denying that probes are under way.

"You could be damaging whatever it is you're doing — if you're doing something — by discussing it beforehand," said Paulson, the spokesman.

That has fueled frustrations.

"There's absolute silence from Mr. Gansler's office," said Elvia Thompson, an Annapolis website designer who wrote a letter in December asking him not to participate in a settlement.

The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's financial regulators are a party to the attorneys general's effort. Anne Balcer Norton, the state's deputy commissioner of financial regulation, said the agency would decide whether to sign a deal after weighing what Marylanders would get under the terms versus what they could possibly get in several years through lawsuits.

"We're working towards … a settlement agreement that is going to effectively change the way that loans are serviced and the way that foreclosures are processed," Norton said. "We just have to make sure, in doing so, it is in the best interests of Maryland homeowners and it's also not forfeiting any rights that Maryland homeowners individually have."

Maryland's financial regulators are examining mortgage servicers' files with banking-oversight agencies from other states, and Norton said the conclusions are troubling. Robo-signing is just one symptom of a "dysfunctional system," she said.

The common problems examiners found: Failing to follow internal procedures. Insufficiently training and supervising employees. Missing opportunities to fix mistakes, such as moving to foreclose on homeowners after approving loan modifications. And leaving law firms and other third parties handling aspects of the foreclosures without any oversight at all.

"They've almost been paralyzed by volume," Norton said of servicers. "They've let a lot of things proceed on automatic pilot."

  • Text BUSINESS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun Business text alerts