Fundraisers pledge increased fight against banks
By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Supporters of people’s attorney Vanessa Fluker gathered at Central United Methodist Church March 25 to raise money and address court sanctions levied against her.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo fined Fluker $12,200 during a March 1 hearing for a gratuitous, or ‘vexatious appeal.’ Colombo’s action stemmed from Fluker’s defense against a foreclosure eviction by Royal Bank of Scotland.
Many consider the sanction a dangerous precedent for future foreclosure cases resulting from predatory lending.
Fluker says the sanctions will not slow her down.
“The only effect this is having on me is that obviously, it’s a financial burden,” said Fluker, who has kept almost one hundred clients in their homes since 2006. “But as far as any of my advocacy for my clients, it has not affected me. In fact it has made me more adamant in the fight for my clients because I know the importance of pushing forward and not to let this particular incident have a chilling affect on any attorney that wants to advocate vigorously on behalf of their client.”
Attorney Jerry Goldberg represented Fluker during her sanction hearing. Goldberg says Fluker must raise over $18,000, the least amount needed to file an appeal bond. He has filed a motion for reconsideration, however, before any appeal action.
Goldberg says Judge Colombo should be prevented from any further participation in the case.
“Subsequent to the decision, we filed a motion for him to disqualify himself from any future proceedings in the case on the basis of bias against Ms. Fluker and her client,” Goldberg said. “He indicated before any briefs were filed in this case that he was of a mind to sanction Vanessa and her client which he, of course, did.”
Colombo should also be disqualified from the case, under Michigan court rules, on the grounds of appearances of impropriety, according to Goldberg. Colombo received a mortgage and two refinancing loans from Royal Bank of Scotland Services, through their subsidiary Charter One Bank between 2005 and 2009.
Led by Central United Methodist’s Pastor Ed Rowe, fundraiser participants promised to increase lobbying efforts to stop bank-led foreclosures.
U.S. Representative John Conyers says he will sponsor fundraisers for Fluker in Washington D.C. and New York in the coming weeks. Conyers also announced plans to provide a Web site link to videos of Fluker’s December 2010 expert testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
“This meeting is enigmatic of what we’re going to have to do in this country, not just this city,” Conyers said. “We’re going to raise this money, quickly and efficiently. We’re going to have to organize and fight back.”
County Commissioner Martha Scott said of Fluker, “That’s one thing about Vanessa — she likes to fight, and people don’t like fighters. She’s not afraid to stand up even when she’s alone. But today, we have to fight for Vanessa, so she can keep fighting for us.”
Detroit’s massive number of foreclosures is significant in light of mounting evidence banks are doing little to stop them. The numbers support assertions by activists that the foreclosure crisis is benefiting banks and destroying the community on two fronts — the silent bailout and the city’s debt service.
The recent census report puts Detroit’s population at 714,000. An estimated 200,000 Detroiters have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2006. Seventy-five to 85 percent of those mortgages were designated sub-prime. The federal government continues to purchase toxic assets and back bank foreclosures, funded by public tax dollars.
“We’re basically foreclosing on our own homes without our permission,” Rowe said.
Several of Fluker’s former and current clients attended the fundraiser. Licia Harper, a 29-year-old law student, was living in Massachusetts when her stepfather passed away. According to Harper, right after his death, Chase Bank began sending collection notices on his home, which was paid off. Harper’s mother had to mount a case in federal court to keep the home. She won. The judge then reversed the decision, despite the failure of Chase Bank to show in court.
“You’re not supposed to be able to sue on the same property after the case is already won,” Harper said. “So, the judge in the federal case took away our victory so Chase would be able to proceed with their suit in probate court.”
Now, with Licia home, Fluker has taken up a federal appeal and the probate case.
“That’s why today is so important — it’s for the legal system,” Harper said. “It’s for a defendant who may be charged with a crime but didn’t do the crime. So, an advocate can go into court without losing their bar license, being sanctioned, being censured, for vigorously advocating for their client, using a plausible legal theory.”
Harper says her experience in the courts is far from isolated. She wonders how many Detroiters, threatened with unsubstantiated foreclosures, have access to affordable and competent legal counsel? Attorney Goldberg says, in light of the massive fraud uncovered against the banks, judges should be sympathetic instead of impatient with those who are fighting for their homes.
“We find this attitude by Colombo is a signal to every other judge,” says said Goldberg. “We’ll just slap sanctions on these attorneys and then they won’t be appealing these actions anymore. To sanction a solo practitioner and someone losing their home, it’s so outrageous … beyond belief.”
For contributions to Vanessa Fluker’s appeal, you may send a check to: Southeast Michigan Jobs With Justice, 600 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI, 48226. Please write “People Before Banks-Legal Defense Fund” in the memo line.