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Court forms committee to study mortgage foreclosures

Monday, April 11, 2011
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Bethany Krajelis

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court has formed a special committee to address mortgage foreclosure proceedings.

The court today announced the creation of a 14-member committee that will study current procedures, pending legislation and proposals adopted in other states to recommend rules that could be implemented on a statewide basis.

The establishment of the special committee is the latest effort made by the courts to ease burdens caused by mortgage foreclosures, which boomed when the recession hit in 2008.

The Cook County Circuit Court started its own foreclosure mediation program last year and in June, Will County followed suit with its own mandatory program.

"These have been important steps forward for those who are faced with the loss of their homes due to declining home values and our nation's economic crisis, but the problem isn't going away," said Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride. "[W]e believe this select committee can come up with specific solutions to help families cope with the emotional and financial burdens of those facing such a devastating loss."

The court gave the committee, which consists of lawyers, judges and others familiar with the foreclosure proceedings, a to-do list that includes reviewing local and Supreme Court rules used in Illinois courts, analyzing procedures adopted in other states and reviewing proposed legislation in order to make recommendations for rules that could be implemented statewide to ensure fairness in mortgage foreclosure proceedings.

Cook County Circuit Judge Lewis M. Nixon is the chairman of the newly formed committee.

As the supervising judge of the circuit court's mortgage foreclosure section and former regional counsel to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Nixon is more than familiar with the issue at the crux of the new committee.

Nixon said once committee members can agree on a meeting time, he plans to ask them for suggestions and ideas. The committee will then delve into the issues the court has asked it to address, he said, adding that the state's mediation programs in Cook and Will counties will probably be a good place to start.

In addition, Nixon said he hopes to bring in people familiar with the mortgage foreclosure process to provide their insight to the committee.

Pointing to the expertise of the committee's members, Nixon said he has a feeling they will have many ideas.

"I think in our instance it's going to matter of culling them all down," Nixon said.

The idea for the committee was brought to Kilbride and the state high court by Justice Mary Jane Theis, who said she was inspired to do something after reading a report that showed there were nearly 70,000 mortgage foreclosure actions pending in Cook County at the end of 2010.

Theis said the report came from Cook County Circuit Judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird, who retired in December from her longtime post as presiding judge of the Chancery Division. Kinnaird was involved in the creation of Cook County's mortgage foreclosure mediation program.

The report, Theis said, included "many eye-opening facts," including the explosion of filings in not only Cook County, but throughout the nation as well as the high percentage of homeowners who face foreclosure proceedings without representation.

Allegations of fraud by some of the nation's major lenders further highlights the need for action, Theis said, referring to "robo-signing," a process in which loan servicers sign off on foreclosure affidavits without confirming their accuracy or verifying the loan information.

Lenders, including Ally, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, admitted this past fall that some of their employees engaged in this practice, spurring the creation of a multistate task force that Illinois Attorney General Lisa M. Madigan sits on.

Madigan has been involved in the various efforts to improve the mortgage foreclosure problem over the years, including testifying before Congress, proposing legislation in the Illinois General Assembly and securing multimillion- dollar settlements from companies that engaged in predatory lending practices.

A representative from Madigan's office — Deborah Hagan, chief of the Consumer Protection Division— is one of the committee's 14 members.

The other members are: Cook County Associate Judge Mathias W. Delort; DuPage County Circuit Judge Robert G. Gibson; John J. Glowinski, senior vice president for First Midwest Bank; attorney Richard M. Guerard; attorney Richard L. Heavner; Montgomery County Circuit Judge Douglas L. Jarman; Robert M. Lawless, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law; Daniel P. Lindsey, an attorney with the Home Ownership Preservations Project of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago; retired Cook Cook County Circuit Judge Clifford I. Meacham; Cook County Associate Judge Darryl B. Simko; William F. Smith, general counsel to Home Star Bank; and attorney Kevin J. Stine.

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