Attorneys Jerry Goldberg and Vanessa Fluker on their way to court in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
Court sanctions attorney for linking foreclosure to Charter One discrimination case
By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Third District Court Judge Robert J. Colombo recently received three home loan modifications from Charter One Bank.
Colombo ruled, however, he did not need to recuse himself from a mortgage foreclosure case involving the same bank.
Nor did it stop him from levying a $12,000 fine on the attorney and client fighting the bank’s foreclosure when the attorney attempted to link the foreclosure case to a discrimination lawsuit now pending against Charter One.
Attorney Vanessa Fluker has devoted her legal career to defending victims of foreclosure and predatory lending in Detroit. On March 1, Fluker’s colleague, Jerry Goldberg, defended her against a court sanction handed down by Colombo. Colombo’s decision included the $12,000 judgment against Fluker and foreclosure victim Asha Tyson.
“She’s a tireless and committed advocate on behalf of people that have been victimized by the banking interests — she deserves the respect of the legal community,” Abayomi Azikiwe said.
Azikiwe, a member of Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI), was one of Fluker’s many supporters who filled the courtroom to capacity.
Colombo’s legal reprimand stems from Fluker’s effort to stop eviction proceedings on Tyson.
Tyson’s home mortgage was held through the Charter One Bank, subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and CCO Mortgage. In November 2008, Judge Colombo denied a stay of eviction, only to have the case sent back to him by the 36th district court in March 2010.
Fluker then filed an appeal seeking an indefinite stay in Tyson’s case, pending a federal lawsuit initiated against RBS/CCO by the Center for Community Justice and Advocacy in November 2009.
That suit alleges Charter One violated the Federal Housing Amendments Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Civil Rights Act (see Michigan Citizen Newspaper, 2/27/11) by treating African American mortgage holders inside Detroit differently than their white suburban counterparts.
Fluker argued that Tyson’s case would be affected by the outcome of the suit.
“He was angry that the case came back to him,” Goldberg says.
In the courtroom, Colombo rebuked every effort by Goldberg to dismiss the sanction hearing.
In sanctioning Fluker, Colombo delivered a lengthy rant for what he called a poorly written brief and a procedural error in filing the appeal. He also admonished her for attempting to introduce the Federal Housing Act to Tyson’s eviction defense.
Colombo based the amount of the judgment against Fluker and Tyson on hours billed by the bank’s lawyers, at $235 an hour, to fight the appeal.
Attorney Goldberg told the Michigan Citizen that in his opinion, Colombo failed to make the necessary case that Fluker’s filing was frivolous and the judges actions were, in effect, retaliatory. He says Colombo was displeased with Fluker’s desire to incorporate the federal lawsuit into the Tyson case and that he implied he would sanction her if she did.
“I thought she effectively argued that because the federal case wasn’t brought up in the first case, she had a legal basis. It was a decent brief with a cogent argument. For a sanction to be carried out, it has to be against a very high standard. The court has to prove that what she did was frivolous,” Goldberg said.
An appeal will be filed in the matter of Fluker’s sanction, Goldberg said. He suggested during his final statements that Judge Colombo recuse himself from any further involvement in the case, citing Colombo’s receipt of three recent home loan modifications by Charter One Bank.
During opening statements, Goldberg emphasized the effects of unfairly sanctioning one of the few attorneys who defend homeowners victimized by predatory lending and subsequent evictions.
“To put a damper on attorneys to even raise these issues has a negative impact on society,” Goldberg said.
Azikiwe agrees the ruling, if allowed to stand, could have great political consequences for Detroiters faced with eviction proceedings.
“It jeopardizes the rights of the people that have been victimized by the banking industry,” Azikiwe said.