Court filings on alleged witness-coaching by an Ocwen Financial Corp. attorney in a foreclosure will not be sealed, a St. Lucie circuit judge ruled.
Court filings on alleged witness-coaching by an Ocwen Financial Corp. attorney in a foreclosure will not be sealed, a St. Lucie Circuit judge ruled.
Judge William L. Roby said the “horse has long left the barn” when it came to the four documents provided by the defense to the Daily Business Review and the New York Times.
The documents were received during discovery by defense attorney Thomas Ice, who represents homeowners Thomas and Jeanette Rolle in a suit brought by mortgage servicer Ocwen and lender Deutsche Bank National Trust Co.
Emails from former Quintairos Prieto Wood & Boyer attorney Erin Prete, then representing Ocwen, included a detailed list of questions and answers about mortgage document handling by Ocwen witnesses.
Foreclosure cases often hinge on testimony by employees of servicers and lenders about mortgage records showing payment and loan-balance histories, homeowner defaults and the ownership history of bundled and securitized loans.
Ice Legal of Royal Palm Beach posted the documents on its website when numerous attorneys requested them after reading the DBR article May 19. Plaintiffs counsel then requested the documents be sealed.
The law firm has since removed the documents from its website, but Roby said the court cannot prevent them from being circulated.
“It is clear from the record in front of this court that the four documents in question are now in the public domain,” he wrote Friday in his order.
The decision came about a month after Deutsche Bank attorney Owen Sokolof of Clarfield Okon Salomone & Pincus filed a motion to disqualify Ice Legal from the case. Sokolof did not return a call for comment by deadline.
Plaintiffs attorneys say Ice released privileged documents to discredit Quintairos Prieto and to influence the outcome of the trial. Clarfield took over the case in 2013.
The disqualification motion has not been set for a hearing.
Prete had inadvertently emailed the disputed documents to Ice during discovery in 2013. Ice notified attorneys for the bank and Ocwen of the apparent mistake in February but heard nothing back.
“According to the rules, if they want to assert privilege, they have 10 days to do that once they’ve learned that it’s been disclosed,” Ice said. The firm did not assert privilege until May 28.
Ice said the judge’s eight-page order against sealing the documents “goes a long way” toward supporting Ice Legal’s argument against disqualification.
“The court has already ruled this is in the public domain—almost all foreclosure defense attorneys know about this,” he said. “What would be the point of disqualifying Ice Legal? Mr. Rolle could not go out and hire an attorney who doesn’t already know this information.”
Ice estimated more than 50 attorneys or law firms have seen the documents. He said he would consider posting them on the website again if asked simply because the file is large and it’s troublesome to email it to curious attorneys.
The judge’s ruling should help prevent “robo-testifying” in the future, Ice said. “It was really a win for the public more than Mr. Rolle or Ice Legal.”
Ice was a prominent defense attorney during the robo-signing scandal after the housing crash, which led to 13 banks paying $9.3 billion in settlements for using employee signatures to speedily process foreclosures without anyone scrutinizing the mortgage records.