Lillie Mae Washington, the 96-year-old woman whose foreclosure nightmare Mother Jones covered in August, has won a crucial battle in her multiyear court fight. Last week, a federal judge granted Washington's request for a temporary restraining order preventing a mortgage servicer, Ocwen Loan Servicing, from foreclosing on her home in Los Angeles.
Washington and her Alzheimer's-afflicted son, Hobert (now deceased), signed mortgage papers in late 2006 only to learn afterward that the monthly payment and fees were far larger than they had understood. Washington claims that the people who sold her the loan purposely deceived her about the costs and that their deception constituted predatory lending and fraud.
By November 2008, Home Loans Direct, the company that originated Washington's mortgage, surrendered its license during a state investigation. A California Department of Real Estate document (PDF) obtained by Mother Jones explains that Home Loans Direct did so after choosing not to contest allegations that it knowingly used loan practices that were "false, misleading, or deceptive."
But the company's loss of its license didn't mean that Washington's house was no longer in jeopardy. Ever since September 2008, when she first sued her mortgage servicer, lender, escrow agent, and others for fraud, she has been trapped in a legal hell. She has represented herself, been represented pro bono, and now pays a lawyer to handle her case. The suit has been handled by at least seven judges and the docket runs over 100 documents long in federal court alone.
Now, federal Judge Dolly M. Gee has forbidden Ocwen from foreclosing on Washington before December 13 and has ordered the mortgage servicer and the other defendants to file a brief explaining why she shouldn't forbid them from foreclosing on Washington for the duration of the legal fight.
Perhaps most important, though, is the judge's ruling that Washington's suit "raises serious questions" about whether her loan was in violation of a California predatory lending law. That means Washington's case won't be summarily thrown out of court and can move forward. And that raises the incentive for the defendants in the case to settle.
Here's the ruling:
Washington isn't the first person to avoid losing her home after being featured in a Mother Jones story. Last year, Army Capt. Michael Clauer got his home back after a MoJo report about his family's plight (his homeowners' association illegally foreclosed on him while he was serving in Iraq) attracted national attention.