One of the largest law firms in New York was recently exposed for hosting a Halloween party at which employees openly ridiculed victims of the housing crisis.
Located near Buffalo, the law firm of Steven J. Baum is what the industry calls a “foreclosure mill,” a firm that works on behalf of big banks and mortgage servicers who want to foreclose on and evict homeowners. A former employee recently sent New York Times reporter Joe Nocera a series of photos from Baum’s 2010 Halloween party that exposes the contempt in which Baum’s employees hold the unfortunate homeowners they helped to make homeless.
In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.
When we spoke later, she added that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose.
In the images, employees can be seen dressed in ragged clothes with filthy faces, holding liquor bottles and cardboard signs that mock the attempts of foreclosure victims to save their homes. Another image shows a cardboard coffin erected inside the office and taped to the front is a picture of Susan Chana Lask, with the words “Rest in Peace. Crazy Susie.” written next to it. Lask is a lawyer who posted a YouTube video denouncing the firm’s foreclosure practices.
The Steven J. Baum law firm is currently under investigation by the State of New York and until recently, was also the target of a Department of Justice investigation which alleged the firm had “filed misleading pleadings, affidavits, and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts in New York.” Baum settled the case for $2 million and denied the charges.
When Nocera contacted the firm about the photographs, a press spokesman stated: “It has been suggested that some employees dress in … attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes,” the statement read. “Nothing could be further from the truth.” The firm described Nocera’s column as “another attempt by The New York Times to attack our firm and our work.”
Sorry Baum, but as anyone in the legal profession will tell you, a picture is worth a thousand words.
View all images of the foreclosure Halloween party on the New York Times website.
Image Credit: Flickr – moresheth