Michael Powell writes: The Bank of America lawyer laid down a patented rhetorical move heard in courts across America. Your Honor, this Orange County, N.Y., homeowner — a New York City police officer — didn’t make enough money to qualify for a mortgage modification. He didn’t send us the right documents.
He didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t, and so we should be allowed to foreclose.
Justice Catherine M. Bartlett of New York State Supreme Court cut off the lawyer. You, she said, are telling me lies.
“Bank of America got a bailout, and this is an outrage, how this man has been treated,” she said. “Hard-working, middle-class Americans are trying to make it, trying to refinance with your bank.”
Either bank officials show up in person, the justice said, or I’m going to order them “here in handcuffs.”
Rage has acquired a cleansing power. Patience as a virtue is a hard sell at the burnt end of a four-year economic collapse. Zuccotti Park shakes, rattles and rolls; television yakkers chat about inequality; and the federal judge Jed Rakoff all but heckled the Securities and Exchange Commission last week for going easy on Citigroup misbehavior.
Then there is Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, caught in Month 5 of a face-off with the White House. President Obama dearly wants to seal a deal in which the nation’s largest banks toss over a few bales of cash — $20 billion to help with foreclosure relief — and the state attorneys general agree not to pursue sprawling and explosive legal cases against the banks.
Mr. Schneiderman and Attorney General Beau Biden of Delaware, joined by a few others, say no. Banks, they say, should disgorge more documents, testify more precisely and prove more completely that they own millions of mortgage notes. These rebel attorneys general want the banks to hand over more than $200 billion, which would enable the government to write down tens of millions of mortgages.
But in the end, their argument is elemental: Wouldn’t the nation benefit from knowing the truth about the behavior of banks and bankers?