Jurisdiction, courts, and filings

Searching for trustee filings is not a quick-and-easy process.

The idea is that the filings would show which houses will be coming up on the market in foreclosure sales; this is the kind of tip passed along in online conversation threads for would-be investors who want to dabble in real estate. In Maryland, however, getting such information is easier said than done. I just spoke with a nice clerk at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, who told me clearly that “we are not required to keep any lists or [that] information.”

Let’s backtrack a little. In an earlier post, I clarified on the basis of information received that, in Maryland, the Circuit Court handles foreclosures. A Circuit Court judge explicitly confirmed the language of the law in writing to a troubled homeowner. All District Court judges know that house foreclosures are not to be handled in the Landlord-Tenant division of the District Court. Regrettably, this crystal-clear law has been repeatedly violated, especially in Prince George’s County, and in the chambers of Judge Crystal Mittelstaedt–where, regrettably, foreclosures have in fact been processed. In legal terms, the District Court lacks jurisdiction to help a house flipper foreclose on a homeowner.

Trying to track down ‘substitute trustee’ filings in Prince George’s County corroborates the principle. When a bank or lender plans to foreclose on a homeowner, often it will arrange with a ‘substitute trustee’, as previously written. By law, a record of the arrangement has to be filed with the county. As one typical legal website explains,

The trustee named in the deed of trust carries out the foreclosure action.  While the original trustee named in the deed of trust may institute the foreclosure, the lender will generally appoint an individual, firm, or company that is experienced in foreclosure matters to be substituted in place of the original trustee.  This is accomplished by the execution of a written document properly recorded in the county where the real property collateral is located.  N.C.G.S. § 45-10 and 11.

Figuring that since foreclosures have in fact been processed in the District Court in Hyattsville, Maryland, I should start there, I called up the court to ask how to look up trustee filings. A nice clerk in the Hyattsville building told me that was “not something we actually handle here,” and transferred my call to the District Court in Upper Marlboro. Another nice clerk there told me, very politely, that the information I wanted “sounds like it may be Circuit Court,” and transferred me there.

Once in Circuit Court, it still took a couple of tries to land in the Foreclosure Department. Note that foreclosures are indeed a department in the Circuit Court, not in the District Court. To put it bluntly, beware of anyone pushing a foreclosure who proceeds through the wrong court. Furthermore, it is a sound principle that the records should be kept in the building where the cases are adjudicated.

Last resort

Even in the right department, however, it would not be an easy or at-a-glance task to look up forthcoming foreclosures by means of substitute trustee filings. One would need a case number and would have to come in requesting to see a specific case.

With that information, one could go to Maryland Case Search, or to some law firms; some large banks have foreclosure sections in their websites; real estate firms have access to foreclosure listings. Everything is easier if you have the information already.

For example, if you already know that one major ‘foreclosure mill’ attorney is John S. Burson, you can find ready confirmation with a quick look at the multi-page list of some of his cases. If you know that the Wittstadts are walking foreclosure mills, you can easily look them up. Each of these names generates more than 500 results in the quick Maryland look-up.

Looking up the name Hijazi also generates more than 500 results. Many of these cases belong to Abdulla Haitham Hijazi, the attorney son of P. G. County DPIE Director Haitham Hijazi. Some of Mr. Hijazi’s foreclosure cases–indicated as such in the Maryland case list–are actions in district courts in Maryland. Mr. Hijazi did not communicate in reply to a request for comment.

Each page shows 25 results. One can find the results here, or go to Maryland Judiciary Case Search and fill in the search boxes with the name/s.

In a quick search of the first page, I counted two cases in the District court in Hyattsville, six in the District court in Frederick County, and five in the District court in Silver Spring. These are all cases involving real property in which Hijazi is listed as “Attorney.” In fact, Hijazi is a party in each. On the entire page of 25 cases, only seven were handled in Circuit Court (none of those in P. G.).

Second page, another 25 results. All 25 were handled in District courts–fourteen in Rockville; one in Glen Burnie; ten in Hyattsville. For those of you keeping score at home, seven of the Hyattsville cases date from 2016 or 2017 and are currently listed as “ACTIVE.”

Presumably there is still hope for those homeowners. Sadder are all the cases listed as “CLOSED.”

Third page, another 25 results. Not all are indicated as foreclosures, but most involve real property and are being processed in District courthouses with Hijazi as the “Attorney” for his company as party–twenty in all, with five in the Upper Marlboro District Court and the rest in the Hyattsville District Court.

As a citizen, I am beginning to wish that our Judicial Disabilities Commission would take an interest in this pattern.

It also looks like a viable class action lawsuit. That could be hard to pull off, admittedly; people who have already been forced out of their homes might be hard to find.

More to come.

 

 

 

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