Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

The court of Catch- 22

The Baltimore Sun

Kwaku Atta Poku, father of three, owner of a small taxi company and Columbia homeowner, was living the American dream - until, through a bizarre but legal injustice, his house ended up in foreclosure and was auctioned off. Bizarre? Mr. Atta Poku was current in his mortgage payments. Legal? A court ruled the foreclosure was proper. Injustice?

Mr. Atta Poku lost the house in 2005 not because of anything he did wrong. He lost his house because the mortgage company couldn't find the documents that would prove his initial loan had been paid, a bank didn't have its paperwork in order and the title company that handled Mr. Atta Poku's refinancing is now out of business. Mr. Atta Poku has paid an awful price because of the incompetence of others, antiquated foreclosure laws and a court that focused on the letter of the law instead of on justice.

As related by The Sun's Larry Carson, what happened to Mr. Atta Poku may be legal, but it wasn't right or just. An immigrant from Ghana who worked his way into a middle-class life a decade after his arrival here, Mr. Atta Poku kept a record of every mortgage check he wrote. But no one could provide the canceled check to prove his claim.

And now he finds himself in the ultimate Catch-22: Someone else is living in his house and he can't further challenge the Howard County judge's ruling against him because an appeals court found that the remedy - the return of his home - couldn't be fulfilled. The house was sold to an investor 10 days after it was put up for sale in March 2005.

And even if he could have appealed, he would have faced the challenge of posting a large bond - money he could hardly afford since his taxi business went into freefall.

The series of unfortunate events that led to the foreclosure of Mr. Atta Poku's house began with his hiring of a Washington lawyer who fell down on the job. By the time he found the Ellicott City attorney who helped him at no cost, the property had been sold.

His peculiar case involved the sales of mortgages, mergers of banks, a series of refinances, a roller-coaster housing market and, most troubling, a state foreclosure system that neither serves nor protects consumers.

Maryland law requires a foreclosure notice to be sent to a homeowner, but not proof that it was received. The state also has one of the shortest times - 15 days - from the date of foreclosure to sale. Lawmakers need to change the system because the subprime mortgage crisis has sent foreclosures rising and more are expected.

It may be too late for Mr. Atta Puko to reclaim his home, but other homeowners shouldn't have to go through what he did. He had hoped the American justice system would remedy this wrong, but he was sadly mistaken.

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