Speaking of the national documentation problems, Guillory said, "We've quickly come to realize … that there are so many layers to this issue, and our office will be taking a look at each and every one of them."

Frank M. Conaway Sr., clerk of the Circuit Court in Baltimore, where the two attorneys have filed more than 3,200 foreclosure cases since 2008, said the nature of the original documents would seem to undermine the cases' validity.

"Who knows what a judge might say?" said Conaway, who has announced his intention to run for mayor next year. "Something needs to be done, I would think."

Improper affidavits would also call into question the validity of the deeds on the homes taken back by lenders, said Anne Balcer Norton, an attorney who is the state's acting deputy commissioner of financial regulation. An affidavit, she said, is "relied on throughout the process, so if it's invalid at the beginning it's going to have an effect on the ultimate end result."

'Different-looking signatures'

It was last fall that Solomon scrutinized affidavits purportedly signed by Geesing, the Bethesda lawyer. One signature struck Solomon as unusual because it was too neat. Another signature, also supposedly Geesing's, differed from the first. Notary signatures varied, too. Solomon pulled about two dozen documents and shipped them to a certified document examiner to verify his suspicion that the paperwork was improperly signed.

"There were so many different-looking signatures," said John J. Bascietto, a Beltsville attorney who represents homeowners with Solomon and Morin.

Solomon, in five cases last November, asked judges to bar clients' foreclosure auctions on the basis of "fraud on the court." Geesing agreed to Solomon's motions to have all the cases dismissed.

"If you have a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it and you consistently do it the wrong way, somebody should say, 'Stop,' " said Solomon.

Two of the homeowners involved in the dismissed cases are now fighting new foreclosure proceedings even as they're being considered for a loan modification, Solomon said. Another refiled case ended with the home's being auctioned. Solomon is no longer representing the remaining two borrowers.

In August, one of Solomon's co-counsels looked through a case file for another client they were representing and found that Dore, the Hunt Valley attorney, had submitted a corrective affidavit acknowledging the same signature issue.

Geesing — who launched nearly 10,000 foreclosure proceedings last year — submitted corrective affidavits for cases in almost every county in Maryland, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of the court's online docket system. Because the dockets don't offer specifics, The Sun reviewed a sample of affidavits filed by Geesing and Dore in circuit courts in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. All were about the signature issue.

In at least some of the attorneys' cases, the record was corrected after the borrowers' homes had already been auctioned. That means the substitute signings could affect the new buyers as well as the lenders and borrowers.

A question of insurance

Winston Miller, vice president at Artisan Title Co. in Baltimore, who's been in the title business for 35 years, said the issue of whether the deeds are valid is "a doozy" of a question.

"I would immediately have to ask my title insurer whether or not we could insure over it," he said.

Concerns about deeds have been raised nationally since mortgage-servicer staffers acknowledged in court depositions that they could not personally verify — as affidavits require — that the information they were attesting to was correct. The New York Times reported early this month that Minnesota-based Old Republic National Title Insurance Co. told agents that it would no longer insure titles on homes foreclosed on by two of the servicers reviewing their procedures, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial's GMAC Mortgage.

Loose lending during the housing boom and layoffs in the resulting recession have left the mortgage industry overwhelmed with defaults. Companies that service the loans for investors were trying during the spring to foreclose on more than 40,000 homes in Maryland and 2 million nationwide, according to the most recent figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Consumer attorneys have complained for years about problems in the foreclosure process, including mortgage servicers who did not adequately prove that the investors on whose behalf they were repossessing homes actually owned the often-resold loans. Judges were generally unwilling to throw cases out due to such errors, sometimes saying that what mattered was not the details but the borrowers' delinquency, Bascietto said.

But the recent revelations of robo-signing prompted outrage and nationwide calls for investigations.

"We didn't know the full breadth of what was happening behind the scenes until now," said Phillip R. Robinson, executive director of Civil Justice, a Baltimore nonprofit that helps homeowners in foreclosure. "When you have these kinds of issues, the integrity of the system has been damaged."

Mortgage servicers say the information included in court filings is correct even if the process might not have been.

"We believe the accuracy of the factual loan information contained in the affidavits was not affected by whether or not the signer had personal knowledge of the precise details," JPMorgan Chase said in a recent statement. "The affidavits were prepared by appropriate personnel with knowledge of the relevant facts based on their review of the company's books and records."

Thomas A. Cox, a Maine attorney who helped bring robo-signing to light, has heard that argument from servicers and he disagrees. He said he's seen "a lot of mistakes" in case files — from how much is owed to whether homeowners were given notice.

"Any homeowner and their family losing a house is a tragedy," said Cox, who is retired and is working pro bono. "To have those people start wondering if it was done fairly, and if they got a fair shake, is really compounding the tragedy."

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/realestatewonk

Baltimore Sun reporters Larry Carson, Nick Madigan and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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