The Daily Parker

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Who's stupider, a lawyer or a Fox reporter?

Via Calculated Risk, apparently Wells Fargo is suing itself over a mortgage foreclosure, which Fox Business columnist Al Lewis fails to understand, and so, because it's Fox, decides to criticize:

You can't expect a bank that is dumb enough to sue itself to know why it is suing itself.

... In this particular case, Wells Fargo holds the first and second mortgages on a condominium, according to Sarasota, Fla., attorney Dan McKillop, who represents the condo owner.

As holder of the first, Wells Fargo is suing all other lien holders, including the holder of the second, which is itself.

Most of the column slams Wells Fargo for being stupid, for wasting paper, for abusing the legal process, etc., rather than trying to explain why the bank did this. Possibly, Lewis could read the third paragraph of his own column, in which he quotes a Wells Fargo spokesman explaining that "[d]ue to state foreclosure laws, lenders are obligated to name and notify subordinate lien holders." Guess how you're required to do that in most states' foreclosure laws? Through a court filing.

As one who possesses a (seldom-used and quite dusty) juris doctorate, I understand why this looks odd but is, in fact, appropriate under the law. The bank has this obligation so that other leinholders' rights are protected. Lewis, himself about as ignorant of the law as he is of journalism, asks "wouldn't it be easier for Wells Fargo to release one of the liens to itself?" I'm not sure what he means, because he doesn't seem to understand the fundamentals of real property law. As the bank's spokesman said, "The primary reason is to clear title and ownership interest in a property to prepare it for sale." (Emphasis mine.) It's not a contested suit; Wells Fargo will not be taking itself "to the Supreme Court," despite how much Lewis would enjoy that.

In the alternative I suppose Lewis could mean that Wells Fargo should simply walk away from the second lein, which would, in effect, put money in the pockets of all the other leinholders at its own expense. That would not only be stupid, it could generate a shareholder derivative suit.

The truly stupid person here is Lewis, who refuses to understand what his own sources are saying in his own column.

Since Lewis' main source seems to be the owner of the property under foreclosure, you can bet that if Wells Fargo had done something hinky with the second mortgage, Lewis would be all over that, too. That this is a complicated and somewhat nuanced legal situation doesn't seem to enter into his thinking; the Rights of the People (including—or, given this is Fox again, especially—those of millionaire property developers) Must Be Protected. The Outrage! The Outrage!

In sum: the bank really, really doesn't want to sue itself, a point several bank and legal sources make clear in the column to any person of average literacy. The bank has no choice, both as a matter of Florida law and as a matter of arithmetic. Yes, the bank probably shouldn't have agreed to an 80/20 mortgage during a real-estate boom on overly-optimistic condo project, and as pennance will now have to eat a good bit of both loans. But Lewis would rather waste column-inches getting mad rather than do what he as a journalist should do, which is to understand and explain a seemingly odd event.

Again, though, this is Fox. Understanding is not encouraged.

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