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NY Suffolk County Judge Spinner Still Working for thePeople

11 Aug

We first reported on Justice Spinner back in November when he sent IndyMac packing in a foreclosure case where he found the lender had exhibited extremely bad behavior – did he call it “Unconscionable”?

This piece from Law.com is a new entry on Justice Spinner and his ongoing work for actual justice for the borrowers of America.

Low-Key Judge Raises the Roof With Foreclosure Rulings

Among his rulings: canceling a $292,500 mortgage because of what the judge called ‘unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious’ conduct by the bank during mandatory loan-modification negotiations

Mark Fass

New York Law Journal

July 19, 2010

At first blush, Suffolk County Acting Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner seems an unlikely figure to strike fear in attorneys.

The 50-year-old judge is physically unimposing, speaks in soft, measured tones and is unfailingly polite. He habitually refers to the attorneys who appear before him as “nice,” “reasonable” and even “wonderful” people.

But the 12-year veteran of the Suffolk bench has also issued three foreclosure decisions over the past eight months that have made him the darling of the tabloids and the Internet for, as the New York Post put it, sticking it to “ruthless bankers.”

First, in November, the judge canceled a $292,500 mortgage because of what he called IndyMac Bank’s “unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious” conduct during mandatory loan-modification negotiations (IndyMac Bank v. Yano-Horoski, 2005-17926).

In March, he ordered Wells Fargo to pay a homeowner $155,000 for entering his house without his permission and changing the locks (Wells Fargo v. Tyson, 2007-28042).

And then in April, the judge ordered Emigrant Mortgage to pay a couple $100,000 as damages for what he said was an “unconscionable, unreasonable [and] overreaching” mortgage agreement. (Emigrant Mortgage Co. v. Corcione, 2009-28917).

Those three decisions have gotten the attention of not only the press and hopeful homeowners, but also of banks and their attorneys.

One sign that the banks now tread carefully in Spinner’s Riverhead courtroom is the number of veteran bank attorneys who appear at the mandatory settlement conferences.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Jonathan Ullman, a Syosset attorney who has represented banks for more than 19 years, was among the half-dozen lawyers who had come to conferences being held in the aisles, the hallway or nearby offices.

Now that Spinner has gained the lenders’ attention, Ullman said, banks no longer entrust cases before him to junior associates: The possibility of losing, and losing big, has become too real.

“The banks are scared to death of Judge Spinner,” Ullman said. “If you go to the rest of the parts, you won’t see anything like this.”

RISING TIDE OF FORECLOSURES

Over the last five years, the annual number of foreclosure filings in New York state has more than doubled, from 22,350 in 2005 to 46,673 last year. More cases were filed in the first five months of 2010 than in all of 2005.

In Justice Spinner’s county, the increase has been even steeper, to 7,536 filings last year from only 2,016 in 2005. And the county had recorded 4,144 foreclosure filings as of May 24 (See County-by-County Foreclosure Numbers for 2010 as of May 24 and 2009).

As that tide has risen, several Supreme Court judges have developed reputations for discarding the rubber stamp to which many banks had become accustomed.

Brooklyn’s Justice Arthur Schack is known for rejecting foreclosure petitions because of shoddy or questionable paperwork by the mortgagees.

Justice Timothy J. Walker of Buffalo recently dismissed a foreclosure action after Wells Fargo insisted on including an adjustable-rate clause in its loan modification, despite the widespread criticism of adjustable rates and the judge’s previous order requiring the bank to offer a loan without such a clause. (Wells Fargo v. Hughes, 2010-20081).

And in Suffolk County, which is home to 1/14 of the state’s population but one-sixth of its new foreclosures, Spinner has gained a small measure of celebrity within the ever-expanding foreclosure community.

The judge’s decisions have been covered everywhere from Reuters (“Hero of the day: Jeffrey Spinner“) to the blog 4closureFraud (“Another NY Style beat down“) to London’s Daily Mail (“Couple’s £370,000 mortgage wiped out by judge angry at bank’s ‘repulsive’ behaviour“).

As the presiding judge of the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Conference Part for the past 18 months, Spinner has overseen Suffolk County’s efforts to process the onslaught of foreclosures by implementing new court procedures and managing the mandatory settlement negotiations for subprime mortgages.

The boy who would soon be named Jeffrey Arlen Spinner was born inside of a 76th Street apartment, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in 1959. Six days later he was adopted by a Long Island couple, hand surgeon Morton Spinner and his wife, Paula, an elementary school teacher. The Spinners had two more boys, and the family moved to Connecticut when Jeffrey was 12.

After graduating from Ithaca College in 1981 and the Touro Law Center in 1987, the future judge built his mortgage expertise, as he put it in a recent interview, “from the ground up” — by working at a series of small Long Island and Connecticut law firms as, of all things, a bank attorney.

“That’s where the jobs became available at that time,” Justice Spinner said. “It wasn’t a conscious choice.”

He handled 40 closings a week, doing title searches the old-fashioned way: going from clerk’s office to clerk’s office and pulling the records.

His wife, Alyse Auerbach Spinner, gave birth to the first of the couple’s three daughters, now ages 14 to 21, in 1989. She now serves as the administrator of the Jacob’s Light Foundation, a charity that provides “necessities and comforts from home” to soldiers overseas.

A registered Conservative, the judge was appointed to Suffolk County District Court in January 1998, elected to the County Court in November 1998 and assigned to the Supreme Court in January 2006.

After the Legislature established mandatory settlement conferences for subprime loans in 2008, Suffolk County’s Administrative Judge H. Patrick Leis appointed Justice Spinner to preside over the county’s new foreclosure conference part. A second judge, Family Court Judge Patrick Sweeney, was later added to the part to help manage the backlog.

 
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