An Amherst, N.Y. law firm is currently experiencing some heat after a New York Times columnist ran an article about the company's 2010 Halloween party which reportedly had mocked people who lost their homes due to foreclosure.
According to Joe Nocera, the New York Times columnist, last year employees at the Steven J. Baum firm celebrated Halloween by dressing up as homeless individuals and holding up signs to mock those who have lost their homes. This information was provided to Nocera by a former employee who has remained anonymous due to fear of retaliation.
The Steven J. Baum firm is a company which specializes in foreclosure proceedings and represents banks and mortgage servicers. According to the company's website, they "work towards solutions that benefit homeowners seeking alternatives to foreclosure and bankruptcy. We are committed to effective communication with our clients and their customers."
In many circles, what the company does is often referred to as a "foreclosure mill".
Nocera explains how the firm throws a party every year on Halloween. He writes,
"I can’t tell you how people dressed for this year’s party, but I can tell you about last year’s. That’s because a former employee of Steven J. Baum recently sent me snapshots of last year’s party. In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against."
Reportedly the former employee said, “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” The ex-employee said the pressure in the company is "to foreclose."
In regards to the party theme, the company allegedly denied the allegations to Nocera stating, "It has been suggested that some employees dress in ... attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes,” the statement read. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The statement also claimed the NYT was doing a smear job.
It seems that sentiment has been reversed and some backtracking done by Baum and Co. The Buffalo News reported head of the firm, Steven J. Baum now says the photos were "in poor taste."
"On behalf of the firm, I sincerely apologize for what happened last year at our Halloween party,” he said.
In the Buffalo News report, Baum claimed this year's party was conducted with the goal of raising money for the American Red Cross, stating employees were warned any potential offensive costumes were prohibited.
Earlier this month, this law firm recently agreed to pay $2 million to settle a case that was investigating misleading foreclosure documents, according to ABA Journal. Despite the settlement, the company is not agreeing any wrongdoing was involved, but instead admitted to sporadic “inadvertent errors" when dealing with its high volume of foreclosures.
In an earlier case reported by ABA Journal, Judge Arthur Schack of Brooklyn called the firm’s explanations “so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authored by the late Rod Serling.”
“Steven J. Baum PC appears to be operating in a parallel mortgage universe, unrelated to the real universe,” the judge wrote in the May 2010 decision.
Apparently this philosophy applies to their celebratory practices as well.