MARSHALL C. WATSON LAW OFFICE NAILED- FINALLY

 

Marshall Watson Foreclosure Mill Shut Down After Guilty Plea And Consent
to Judgment, Changes Name to Choice Legal Group

 

The foreclosure mill, Law Firm of Marshall Watson, has
been shut down after the owner, Marshall Watson, pled guilty to unlawful and
unethical practices at his firm. It appears that the firm hopes to have a
smooth transition to a new law office, Choice Legal
Group
, headed by Marshall Watson’s brother, John Watson. In 2010,
John Watson, apparently playing both sides of the crisis, in more than one
instance represented a property owner against the very same financial institution
that he also rep
resented, in at
least some capacity, in other foreclosure cases
.

 

In March 2011, Marshall Watson paid two million dollars to settle a Florida Attorney General investigation into
questionable foreclosure practices and suspicious document execution policies.
However, that settlement didn’t clean up Watson’s practices enough to fend off
a new set of accusations by the Florida Bar. The Bar has just released a 12-page guilty plea for consent judgment with Marshall Watson.
This is the Florida Bar’s third regulatory action against foreclosure mill
owners.

 

At the time of the settlement with the Florida AG,
Marshall C. Watson, president and chief executive of firm, said in a statement
that he was “pleased” with the settlement. “With our firm’s tight controls now
in place we are setting a high bar for the mortgage law provider industry, and
our clients recognize and value the positive steps we are taking.” One of those
“positive steps”, a brilliant PR move, was to hire the Broward County Chief Judge Victor Tobin, who resigned from the bench on June
30, 2011 and started his employment at Marshall Watson’s foreclosure factory one day
later. Questions remain over when Tobin negotiated his employment terms and if
the questionable career change violated the edict that sitting judges must
avoid the appearance of impropriety. Tobin who, once held the highest Broward
County judgeship, set court policies for all cases including foreclosures as
well as adjudicating foreclosure cases himself when the court was short staffed.
Now, less than two years later, despite Watson’s “tight controls” and the
hiring of Tobin, the Florida Bar has extracted a guilty plea from Watson for
failing to develop foreclosure policies in line with the rules of professional
ethics for Florida attorneys and also for routinely filing documents in Florida
courts that were illegally executed and/or notarized. Kim Miller who broke this
story in the Palm Beach Post wrote, “Charges against Watson in the Bar’s
12-page ‘conditional guilty plea for consent judgment’ include that an attorney
contracted by the firm was paid $1 each for signing approximately 150,000 fee
affidavits.” According to the Consent Judgement and guilty plea, an
undetermined number of affidavits in order to secure fees were signed outside the
presence of a notary public and then later notarized, a clear violation of the
law, and in numerous instances, an attorney was given only the signature page
of an affidavit to sign. Affidavits require the signer to swear under oath that
they have personal knowledge of what the facts stated therein. However, that’s
not possible if the signer doesn’t even see what the text of what he or she is
signing!

 

Besides the Office of the Florida Attorney General and
the Florida Bar, a Florida lawmaker has voiced serious concerns about Marshall
Watson’s foreclosure mill. In October 2011, Senator Darren Soto,
former Florida state representative (D-49) and newly elected to the Florida
state senate (D-14), called for a formal investigation, possibly criminal related,
Marshall Watson’s possible violations of the settlement agreement with the
Florida Attorney General.

 

There was at least one
additional investigation
into Marshall Watson’s practices. Former
Monroe County state attorney Dennis Ward opened an investigation into Marshall
Watson’s mill, focusing on a Watson attorney, Patricia Arango,
whose apparent signature appears on thousands of legal documents, some clearly
improper
, filed in official records across the state. At the time
the investigation was covered in the media, Ward stated, his “ultimate concern
is protecting the integrity of the legal system and land title records.”

 

The Bar has been slow to act against rampant crimes
related to the prosecution of foreclosure cases but there are two previous
Florida Bar regulatory actions against a disgraced former foreclosure mill
owner, David J Stern, whose now defunct firm went down in flames in 2011 after widespread media stories exposed
illegal and unethical practices at his mill. Nevertheless, Stern remains a
lawyer in good standing with the Florida Bar despite numerous citizen
complaints filed over the past decade in addition to the Bar’s own 2002 and 2011 complaints. The Bar also issued a detailed ethics opinion on January 11, 2011 explaining a
process to be implemented by foreclosure mill attorneys who have knowledge of
illegal and unethical practices in specific foreclosure cases by their bank
clients.

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