PORTLAND, Maine — A lawyer disciplined for not blowing the whistle loudly enough on his client’s “robo-signed” foreclosure documents is fighting the public reprimand he received from the Maine legal profession’s oversight board in April.
The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar had determined that Drummond & Drummond lawyer Paul Peck, who led the firm’s foreclosure division, did not “ take immediate and effective action” to stop foreclosure proceedings in 2010 that were based on faulty affidavits.
James Bowie, the attorney representing Peck in the appeal, said his client is contesting the factual basis for the board’s decision.
“The panel issued the lowest level of discipline that is available if they are going to issue discipline,” Bowie said in a telephone interview. “Despite that, we feel the factual findings don’t support the imposition of any discipline at all.”
Peck is seeking to have the reprimand dismissed in favor of a warning, which two of his colleagues received; the bar overseers are seeking to have the reprimand upheld and have Peck pay its legal fees.
The parties in the case, which has been assigned to Maine Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Andrew Mead, held a conference Wednesday to begin scheduling the first hearings in the matter.
The process leading to Peck’s reprimand began in 2011 with the filing of a grievance by lawyer Thomas Cox, who while working as a volunteer for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, picked up the case of a Denmark woman facing foreclosure from GMAC Mortgage. For that case and others, Cox is credited with prompting a multi-state freeze on foreclosures that were based on sworn statements that had not actually been reviewed. That practice became known as robo-signing.
The break in that case, and the central reason Peck received the reprimand, was a 2010 statement Cox took under oath from Jeffrey Stephan, who was the team lead of the company’s “ document execution team,” according to court records.
Stephan said during that deposition that some statements he signed in foreclosure documents for the company were untrue and that he did not review the documents or sign sworn affidavits with a notary present.
Cox’s case was not the first time a court had acknowledged GMAC’s affidavit processing problems. The company had previously been sanctioned for the same kind of problem in Florida in 2006, which Cox noted in his initial complaint.
In the April reprimand order, the board of bar overseers determined Peck became aware of his client’s wrongfully signed documents sometime in June 2010 but did not take the appropriate action as head of the firm’s foreclosure practice to make the problem known to judges deciding foreclosure cases that relied on falsely signed affidavits. The oversight board ruled that Peck should have filed motions to amend the Stephan deposition when he thought the statements Cox submitted to the court would be altered.
Peck argued in his appeal that he would not have been able to file such motions without approval from the client, making that an unreasonable expectation of the board. He also argued that because he believed the Stephan deposition would be altered and Stephan’s statements “ could not be true,” he did not knowingly offer false evidence, in the form of signed foreclosure documents, to the court.
In addition to Peck, Philip Mancini, the ethics officer for Drummond & Drummond, and associate Alexander Saksen went before the board. Both received a warning.