The plight of Kwaku Atta Poku, the Columbia man who lost his house despite making every mortgage payment, has inspired a General Assembly bill that seeks to give homeowners like him a better chance in court.
"When I heard that Mr. Atta Poku really never got a chance to make his case - never got to the substance - that sounded like a real injustice," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat who represents the area of Columbia where the taxi company owner's former house is located.
Four years after refinancing his mortgage, Atta Poku lost his home to foreclosure in 2005. He and his family were evicted in August 2006, and he lost a string of court appeals on technicalities, ending last month with a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Bobo's bill, which was introduced last week with a dozen co-sponsors, uses Atta Poku's name in its title, but won't help him.
The bill would lower the amount of a bond required to stay a foreclosure during an appeal, and would also prohibit dismissal of foreclosure appeals in Circuit Court except under specific, clear standards.
"The situation you have now is the court would set a bond for the amount of the value of the house," said Scott C. Borison, the Frederick lawyer representing Atta Poku. "There's no way in the world [homeowners] can obtain a bond. They've lost their biggest asset."
The General Assembly is considering a package of bills seeking to help protect homeowners, and with foreclosures rising nationally, the problem is growing.
Phillip Robinson, executive director of Civil Justice Inc. and a member of the Maryland Homeownership Preservation Task Force, said homeowners facing foreclosure could benefit from the bill.
"The bill would clarify a reasonable bond and also allow a homeowner who can meet the definition that's there to have their appeal heard on the merits," he said. "It gives the Circuit Court a roadmap of what they should request."
Jeanne N. Ketley, president of the Maryland Homeowners' Association, praised the bill.
"You shouldn't have laws that hurt people. What Delegate Bobo is trying to do is to plug holes in the law," she said.
Shane A. Winn, a spokesman for Washington Mutual, the Seattle-based mortgage company that took Atta Poku's house, declined through an e-mail to comment.
Atta Poku tried to get a Howard County Circuit Court judge to stop his eviction while he appealed the foreclosure but was denied.
"While we were at the Court of Special Appeals, they evicted him and transferred title [on his house]," Borison said. The Court of Special Appeals ruled against him in May 2007, because he had not posted the required bond.
With his house sold twice since his eviction, he now has virtually no hope of reclaiming it, though his lawyers have filed new negligence suits against all the parties to his foreclosure in an attempt to recover his financial losses.
He's still operating a two-vehicle taxi and sedan service in Howard County, but he's worried.
"After the holidays, business is just slack. I have all kinds of bills to pay. I hope the law can do something," he said.
An immigrant from Ghana and a naturalized citizen, Atta Poku, 56, came to the United States in 1992, later moved to Columbia, built a small taxi business, bought a townhouse, married and began a family.
He had refinanced his first mortgage with Washington Mutual Inc., which took over the bank that held his original mortgage. The result, his lawyers said, was that the settlement check went from one division of the mortgage company to another via a settlement agency. Several years later, WAMU claimed his first mortgage was never paid off.
By the time Atta Poku got competent legal help from Ellicott City attorney Gerald Richman, his foreclosure had already occurred.
"I feel very much let down by the country and the law. I tried to do all the right things," he said last week.
"I have a family to feed. Business is not doing good. What am I supposed to do? I didn't do anything wrong," he said.
Despite his worries and debts, his lawyers, who have worked without payment, are still trying to help.
"We are hopeful we can work something out," Borison said.