Banks take steps to clean up foreclosure process; As errors mount,

An overhaul of lender foreclosure systems is forcing many attorneys to sign code-of-conduct pledges and is leading to dismissals of hundreds of cases.

The details of the internal reforms made by six leading banks are outlined in reports submitted last week to comply with a New Jersey court order.

The hundreds of pages of documents also offer insight as to when the lenders first identified problems, as well as more acknowledgments of "deficient" and "inadequate" practices used to take back homes.

Portions of the reports are specific to New Jersey, such as the 210 foreclosures Citibank dismissed because of errors. The report notes the cases are likely to be refiled, but homeowners also will be given a new chance to modify their loans. Citibank did not respond to a request for Florida-specific information.

Other changes are on a nationwide scale, such as new training classes, the hiring of additional employees, the creation of uniform affidavits to reduce confusion, and Bank of America's new attorney code of conduct.

The code, which must be signed by all outside attorneys used in foreclosure proceedings, was distributed Nov. 30.

It reinforces "ethical obligations" and is accompanied by a new "attorney watch list" program to identify and deal with poorly performing firms.

Shari Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale real estate attorney who represents banks, said she has no problem with lenders being required to divulge their solutions to the foreclosure bungle. But she doesn't believe a mandatory code of conduct will have much effect.

"I guess I'm getting cynical about this whole thing, but if I have to teach you ethics, then why am I letting you be a lawyer?" Olefson said. "There are so many agendas in this, it's difficult for me to take anything seriously."

By Kimberly Miller


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