Foreclosure attorney violated rules by having others sign his name, court finds

A Hunt Valley attorney who admitted to having his employees sign his name to foreclosure documents was found by a Baltimore County judge to have violated three of Maryland's rules of professional conduct for lawyers, according to court records.

Thomas P. Dore engaged in behavior that was "prejudicial to the administration of justice" by "routinely and repeatedly" filing "with the courts affidavits purportedly signed by him and attested to by notaries" he employed, according to court documents. Affidavits are the written equivalent of taking the stand to testify under oath and Maryland law does not allow for them to be signed by a proxy.

The decision against Dore is the latest stemming from a series of petitions by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission against lawyers who, during the height of the foreclosure crisis, cut corners in thousands of foreclosure cases in order to manage overwhelming workloads. So far, one attorney has been reprimanded by the state's highest court for such behavior and several other cases are working their way through the legal system.

Dore also violated his professional obligations by knowingly making false statements in court documents and failing to properly oversee non-lawyers at his firm, according to the decision. An additional charge by the state's grievance panel that Dore engaged in "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" was dismissed by Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Justin J. King.

King's Dec. 13 decision will be reviewed by Maryland's highest court. The Court of Appeals holds a hearing in all attorney grievance cases and then determines the attorney's punishment, if any. Potential punishment for Dore ranges from a reprimand to disbarment.

Dore and his attorney, Alvin Frederick, declined to comment on King's decision because the case is now headed to the Court of Appeals. Likewise, lawyers for the Attorney Grievance Commission declined to comment because the case is pending.

King wrote in the decision that Dore "directed that his name appear on all documents filed in foreclosure cases, despite the fact that the volume was increasing exponentially and it would have been impossible for him to review and sign every document."

His firm, Covahey, Boozer, Devan & Dore, was handling more than 1,000 new foreclosure cases each month during 2008, as the housing bust sparked the financial crisis and a global recession, pushing many homeowners into delinquency on their mortgage payments, King's decision said.

Although Dore could not review and sign every foreclosure affidavit, Dore insisted that his signature appear on the documents, according to court filings.

Dore did not want his employees to sign the documents with their own names, Dore testified, because he did not want them to be targeted by angry homeowners who were going through the foreclosure process. Dore told King that "on occasion, defaulting borrowers named his employees in frivolous law suits or even threatened their physical safety," the judge wrote.

Although the proxy signatures on the affidavits were a violation of Dore's ethical obligations, the content of the affidavits was accurate, King determined. In addition, Dore's law firm spent between $120,000 and $180,000 to correct the affidavits that were signed improperly and instituted new procedures to prevent such errors in the future, the judge concluded.

"My only hope is that the Maryland courts approach foreclosure cases with the same diligence and empathy that was shown to Mr. Dore," said Jerry Solomon, an attorney who represents Maryland homeowners facing foreclosure.

Dore's actions, like those of other Maryland foreclosure lawyers, were uncovered by attorneys like Solomon, who noticed signature irregularities while reviewing their clients' foreclosure documents.

Although foreclosure documentation problems came to light in Maryland in the fall of 2010, many of the attorney grievance cases against attorneys involved in proxy signing practices are just being heard now.

Kenneth John MacFadyen, who admitted to similar signing practices, was reprimanded by the Court of Appeals in August for violating some of the same professional conduct rules Dore was found to have violated.

A Bethesda lawyer, Jacob Geesing, is facing an attorney grievance trial for proxy signatures early next year in Montgomery County. Attorneys from a firm based in Fairfax, Va., also may be disciplined in Maryland for proxy signatures on foreclosure filings.

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