In a matter of “great public importance” that has gone largely ignored this week, the high-profile foreclosure fraud case of Roman Pino versus The Bank of New York has been settled. According to the Florida Supreme Court, the matter was dismissed upon Pino’s “Notice –Dismiss (Voluntary Stipulation)” on July 25th.
The opportunity for a precedent setting opinion for attorney Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents, must mean outright success for Pino.
Although details of the settlement were not provided in the brief stipulation before the high court, one can only speculate whether Pino received a mortgage modification, principal reduction, right to short-sale, waiver of deficiency balance, or his home free and clear.
One thing is clear, though. Any settlement agreement between the parties would contain a confidentiality agreement.
Neither Ice, nor Enrique Nieves – Pino’s attorney of record – were available for comment despite several messages left at Ice Legal and on their cell phone voicemail.
An appeals court in February requested that the Florida Supreme Court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of "great public importance." The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner had requested such a review.
"We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents," the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.
Had the matter been adjudicated on its merits and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of foreclosure cases could have been impacted as allegations of document fraud and robo-signing run rampant throughout the nation.
According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.
In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino's mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.
Pino retained Ice, who in moving to dismiss the complaint, argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.
Attorneys from the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment "which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed," the appeals court wrote.
Stern's now defunct law firm is one of several foreclosure mills throughout Florida that are under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Just as Pino's attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the Bank of New York dismissed its foreclosure action. Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.
In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court's ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state's highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino's claim of fraud.
“I’m not surprised at a settlement of this matter considering the allegations of forged or fraudulent documents and the risk of substantial loss to the bank,” said Carlos J. Reyes, of the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “As a foreclosure defense attorney, my preference would have been for a written opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, but the client is the ultimate decision maker in any settlement discussions.”