Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Foreclosure Crisis Became a Passion; Florida Bar Honors Jacksonville Lawyer for His Pro Bono Work on Mortgages

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Foreclosure Crisis Became a Passion; Florida Bar Honors Jacksonville Lawyer for His Pro Bono Work on Mortgages

Article excerpt

Byline: Charles Broward

"I'm a death penalty prosecutor who is fairly conservative who now sues banks for a living."

"Go figure" - that's the look James Kowalski Jr. gave as he described himself in a nutshell.

Kowalski, 48, was recently named by The Florida Bar as a winner of one of its 2012 Pro Bono Service Awards.

He was recognized from the state's 7th Judicial Circuit, consisting of Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties. Although his office is in Mandarin, most of Kowalski's pro bono work is done in St. Johns County with a focus on something he helped pioneer.

Now a national issue, mortgage fraud was a rarely used term when Kowalski's first such client walked into the Beach Boulevard firm where he began his civil career after seven years as a Jacksonville prosecutor.

"This guy walked in and said, 'I'm getting screwed around by my bank' ... and we won our first foreclosure case."

Kowalski said he and his partner found that the mortgage company had signed documents in New York and then had them notarized in Pennsylvania.

That's when Kowalski said he realized the bank's words were not gospel.

In 2006, one of his cases led to sanctions being put on GMAC after he obtained testimony from an employee who admitted she had signed off on documents of which she had no actual knowledge.

Four years later a similar case occurred in Maine in which another GMAC employee admitted to signing off on 10,000 foreclosure documents a month that no one had reviewed.

That's when the media began to catch wind and terms like "robo-signing" were coined.

But it was a Rolling Stone article that blew up the issue and centered the national attention right here in Jacksonville, mockingly criticizing Duval County's "Rocket-Docket" court. The new court had set a goal of settling 25 foreclosures an hour in an attempt to chip away at the 15,000 open cases the county faced at the time, many containing faulty, illegal documentation, it said.

It was Kowalski who helped guide the article and whose work was used in the story.

Eventually, the federal government called on him to testify to Congress in December 2010 as to where the breakdowns were occurring. …

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