Miami-Dade Senior Circuit Judge Jon Gordon smacked down a homeowner after it appeared she repeatedly lied to him during a foreclosure trial.
Gordon said he considered throwing Vilma Violetta Martinez in jail for perjury, but instead struck all her pleadings and unceremoniously dismissed her and her attorney, Mark Pomeranz of Pomeranz & Associates in Hallandale Beach, after the May 12 trial.
“You know what? I think you’re lying to the court,” Gordon told Martinez before entering a default judgment for the lender, Bank of New York Mellon.
His sanction wiped out all of Martinez’s responses and motions in the case that dated back to 2008.
“You ought to consider yourself lucky that you’re leaving here today and not going to jail,” he said. “Give me the judgment. You’re excused. Shame on you all. Shame on you. Leave.”
At first, Gordon seemed sympathetic to Martinez, a Miami woman facing foreclosure on her $334,000 home at 14501 NW Second Ave.
“It’s fair to say that courts give a lot of deference to borrowers and the seriousness of somebody losing their home,” said lender attorney Jason Vanslette of Kelley Kronenberg in Fort Lauderdale.
That seemed to be the case at the start of the trial for Martinez, who bought the property in February 2006, made her last payment in March 2008, and owed more than $333,000 on the principal, plus interest and fees to Bank of New York Mellon.
Martinez told the judge she never received a default notice, despite never moving out of her home. She appeared to be gearing to hinge her defense on a claim that neither the first loan servicer, Bank of America Corp., nor its replacement, Shellpoint Mortgage Servicing, sent a breach letter to her correct address. It would mean the servicers failed to meet the legal prerequisite for initiating foreclosure by denying her the opportunity to address the problem.
But Vanslette suggested Martinez deliberately rerouted her mail. He presented a U.S. Postal Service change-of-address notice, and told Gordon the homeowner changed her address to a post office box without informing the lender, causing mail carriers to return the notice of default as undeliverable.
“No, no. I’ve always lived there …,” Martinez testified through a translator. “I always got all of my mail there where I’m living now.”
“Do you have any idea why the U.S. Postal Service would inform the lender that your mail was to be forwarded to this P.O. box number?” Gordon asked.
“No,” Martinez answered.
“OK. Thank you, ma’am,” the judge said, turning over questioning to Vanslette.
“One of the frustrating issues there is that the judge examined the witness and he accepted her testimony,” said Kelley Kronenberg partner Adam Barnett. “The judge took it on face value. He trusted her testimony.”
That changed, though, when Vanslette presented a letter Martinez reportedly sent to the lender in 2008, informing the bank she’d left the property in 2008 after losing her job and suffering economic hardship.
Martinez acknowledged the letter contained her correct Social Security number and account information, but denied it was her signature.
“In this letter that you claim you did not write and that you claim you did not sign, to which you also claim that there’s nobody who knows your Social Security number other than you—it writes specifically that ‘I had to move out from the property and stay with friends until my situation gets better. The property is vacant and I am trying to sell at any price that the lender will approve.’ Do you recognize any of that?” Vanslette asked.
When Gordon read the letter and asked whether she’d lost her job, Martinez answered, “Well, yes. I lost several jobs.”
“Did you lose one … about December of 2008?” the judge pressed.
“Yes,” Martinez answered.
Gordon continued to read the letter, which reportedly described Martinez’s struggle to pay the mortgage, attempts to secure employment, appeals to friends and family members for financial assistance and efforts to sell the property before moving out.
He compared the signature on the letter to the one on the mortgage and Martinez’s driver’s license, but the homeowner continued to deny writing the bank.
“When I sign, I write Violetta Martinez …,” she said. “I don’t sign with the initial ‘V.’ I sign Violetta completely written out.”
“OK. So you’re saying this is not your signature on the mortgage?” the judge countered.
“Uh-huh,” Martinez answered.
The case played out amid mounting allegations of witness coaching from attorneys on both sides of foreclosure litigation.
The latest came when foreclosure defense attorney Thomas Ice accused an attorney for embattled mortgage servicer Ocwen Financial Corp. of improperly spoon-feeding questions and answers to unqualified witnesses testifying in foreclosure cases against Florida homeowners.
Ice said he’s uncovered a script provided to financial services sector employees who have no firsthand knowledge of mortgage details to help bolster Ocwen’s case and crush homeowner defenses.
But lenders’ attorneys fire back with accusations of their own, saying defense lawyers increasingly rely on the thinnest technicalities, like administrative errors in paperwork, to win victories for homeowners who have skirted mortgage payments for years.
The key is heightened vigilance, Vanslette said, as “technicality defenses” become increasingly popular.
Martinez’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment, but court records show he objected after the ruling, arguing the bank had failed to enter a default notice, payment history or establish standing to foreclose on the property.
“Counsel, I’ve ruled on this, and I’m going to excuse you. I thank you so much,” Gordon replied. “Have a good day.”