The owner of the Fort Lauderdale-based “foreclosure mill” Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson has agreed to plead guilty to offenses found during a Florida Bar investigation.
The consent judgment, not yet approved by the Florida Supreme Court, would suspend attorney Marshall C. Watson for 91 days, force him to close his law firm, and require him to pay $30,000 for a record-keeping analysis, plus $5,931 for the Bar investigation.
The consent judgment entered into in December, accuses Watson of failing to develop “foreclosure policies for firm employees” and includes charges that the firm routinely filed Complaints alleging a lost mortgage note without confirming with the lender that it was truly lost. This was done as a time-saving tactic, and the note was typically found prior to judgment or trial.
Watson’s firm was the only one of those investigated by Florida Attorney General Bondi’s office that settled its case. In March 2011, the firm signed a $2 million consent agreement while admitting no wrongdoing.
Charges against Watson in the Florida Bar’s 12-page consent judgment include that an attorney contracted by the firm was paid $1 each for signing approximately 150,000 attorney’s fee affidavits. Of those, an unknown number of which were fraudulently notarized. On numerous occasions only the last page of this fee affidavit was given to the attorney to sign despite the fact that the attorney was swearing to the truth and accuracy of the entire document.
The Florida Department of State website shows the firm officially changed its name to Choice Legal Group late last month.
It was noted in the consent judgment that the firm had taken numerous measures to improve foreclosure policies. In May 2011, the firm hired former Broward County Chief Judge Victor Tobin to supervise and ensure appropriate practices were being followed.
Prominent Royal Palm Beach-based foreclosure defense attorney Tom Ice was quoted saying that this was groundbreaking as it holds Watson personally accountable for failing to supervise and train his associates and control firm policies.
Watson’s firm grew dramatically during the height of the foreclosure crisis, the judgment notes. By the end of 2009, his firm was handing more than 66,000 cases with 71 lawyers and 597 support staff.