A Case Against Lisa Madigan?

*A Case Against Lisa Madigan?*
**By Phil Hall**

new-PhilH***On September 9, the New York Times published an article titled “Invasive Tactic in Foreclosures Draws Scrutiny.” This article focused on a lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan against Safeguard Properties, one of the leading property management firms within the mortgage servicing industry.

****The article went into great depth about Madigan’s lawsuit, and it included a profile of one Illinois homeowner that filed a complaint against Safeguard Properties. This article obviously took some degree of time and planning to create – Madigan was interviewed several days before publication, and the unhappy homeowner was the subject of a photo shoot that illustrated the article.

****There was just one itty-bitty problem: Madigan did not bother to file the lawsuit until after she thoroughly briefed the New York Times and made the complaining homeowner available for an interview and photographs. Diane Fusco, a Safeguard spokesperson, stated in the article that the company had not received the lawsuit at the time of the reporter’s inquiry.

****Both the mainstream media and the housing trade rags focused exclusively on Madigan’s charges against Safeguard, with the latter put on the defensive. However, there is a bigger story that no one bothered to examine: whether Madigan is using the Safeguard case to boost her own political career.

****First, why is the Illinois Attorney General creating a case against Safeguard in the New York Times before filing the appropriate paperwork in court, let alone alerting Safeguard of the lawsuit? This was hardly a quickie, whispered leak to a reporter a few hours before her court filing – this process was clearly planned out well in advance.

****Second, why did Madigan pick the New York Times for the preview of her case? After all, there are plenty of newspapers in Illinois for this publicity maneuver – is there any reason to drop the story in one of the world’s most visible news publications instead of a local daily newspaper?

****Third, has anyone noticed that Madigan has frequently targeted out-of-state mortgage industry entities as part of her litigation endeavors? Safeguard is located in Ohio, yet that state’s attorney general is not joining Madigan’s lawsuit. Last year, Madigan sued New York-based Standard & Poor’s for its “fraudulent role in assigning its highest ratings to risky mortgage-backed investments in the years leading up to the housing market crash.” In 2011, she sued two Florida-based companies, Nationwide Title Clearing and Lenders Processing Services. Needless to say, having a state attorney general sue a national company will always generate plenty of media coverage – in comparison, her lawsuits against dubious Illinois-based mortgage rescue operations barely received press coverage outside of the state.

****Fourth, it is no secret that Madigan wanted to run for Illinois governor next year. But while her father Michael Madigan continues to serve as speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, her own statehouse aims will need to remain on hold. And with her re-election set for 2014, Madigan will obviously need to pump up the publicity to remind voters that she’s not just sitting around with her feet on the desk.

****But for her own political cred, Madigan would be wise to delay the Safeguard case until the 2014 election. In a letter to his company’s clients, Safeguard’s CEO Alan Jaffa made it very clear that his company is not going to be used as a doormat for Madigan’s political posturing – and the company has a strong case against her charges.

****“This is an industry-wide issue, at the center of which is the very challenging public misunderstanding about a mortgage company’s right to protect a property believed to be vacant prior to the foreclosure sale,” Jaffa wrote. “In defending this lawsuit, we plan to raise awareness about both the important role of the mortgage industry to protect and preserve properties and the challenges of doing so.”

****And, by the way, the New York Times never bothered to print Jaffa’s comments rebutting Madigan’s lawsuit. So much for the Times’ longstanding promise of providing “all the news that’s fit to print.”