Thursday, November 3, 2011

NY foreclosure firm: Sorry for mocking homeless

The Law Offices of Robert E. Brown, P.C.

The head of a foreclosure law firm whose employees mocked victims of the mortgage crisis at a Halloween party last year apologized Wednesday to an outraged advocate for the homeless who said the firm showed "a disgusting lack of sensitivity."

Pictures from the Steven J. Baum law firm's 2010 Halloween party turned up last week in The New York Times, which said it received them from an unidentified former employee.

The pictures show people dressed to look homeless and a sign reading "Baum Estates" near part of the office decorated to resemble a row of foreclosed homes. Another picture features a tattered green tarp over what appears to be a hovel for the homeless.

The Baum law firm in suburban Buffalo is one of the largest-volume mortgage foreclosure firms in New York. Last year, it handled nearly 40 percent of the 46,572 foreclosure actions brought in New York courts, the New York Law Journal reported in February.

Amid an investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, Baum agreed last month to pay $2 million and change its practices after admitting to errors in legal filings that it blamed on the high volume of mortgage defaults and foreclosures it handles.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also is investigating the firm's practices, a person familiar with the investigation said, speaking on condition of anonymity because active investigations are not discussed publicly.

After denying to the Times that employees had mocked those who had lost their homes, the firm has in recent days acknowledged the costumes were inappropriate and apologized for last year's Halloween party.

The news comes as foreclosures continue to create a drag on the American economy and protests have erupted around the nation to protest what activists say is rampant corporate greed and influence on government that maintains a crippling disparity between rich and poor.

"I again want to sincerely apologize for the inappropriate costumes worn by some of our employees at our Halloween Party in 2010. It was in extremely poor taste and I take full responsibility," Steven J. Baum said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I know people were extremely offended and people have every right to be upset with me and my firm."

Baum later met with Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, who had sent a letter demanding an apology and offering to educate employees on the plight of the homeless.

"Your firm and its employees profit at the misfortunes of others and are an active participant in making people homeless in the first place," Zuchlewski wrote. "Allowing employees to participate in a company sponsored function such as this shows a disgusting lack of sensitivity. ... Mocking others is a former of bullying that simply cannot be tolerated in our society."

After the meeting, Zuchlewski said Baum reported that he didn't know about the party at one of the firm's offices, but that he took responsibility.

"He offered no excuses, apologized several times and has offered to have himself and his employees volunteer for homeless causes on a regular basis," Zuchlewski said.


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