January 26, 2011 15:55 Age: 3 yrs

Alexander Urges Mortgage Reform

By: Wendy R. Cromwell

New Sam Nunn Chair in Ethics and Professionalism invested

“As members of the legal profession, it is our obliga­tion to serve the client, but it is also our obligation to reform the systems that are broken,” Professor Frank S. Alexander said.

Alexander, the new Sam Nunn Chair in Ethics and Professionalism, addressed the mortgage crisis and efforts to reform the failed lending system during his Oct. 21 investiture lecture, “From Treatment to Prevention: Our Professional Obligation to Reform Broken Systems.”

“What is needed is a fundamental reorientation of our understanding of land and our relationship to that land,” Alexander said. “Our culture, unfortunately, has come to regard land, real estate, homes and buildings simply as items for consumption.

“When it is no longer useful to us, we simply throw it away or walk away from it,” Alexander said. “Vacant and abandoned properties are the litter of a consumption society. It is time to rethink our views of littering.”

Alexander, former interim dean, called upon his colleagues to seek as much clarity and understanding as possible to create the “most efficient and effective responses” to the foreclo­sure crisis and the growing inventories of vacant and abandoned properties.

“Our obligation as professionals, especially in the context of the legal profession, is to be alert to the trends, the structures, the systems that led us to this point,” he said. “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. We have an obligation to temper our creativity and ingenuity with the wisdom of experience and to plan for a future in which the crises can be avoided.”

Alexander said one major problem with the mortgage crisis is the lack of data and statistics. “We do not even know, for example, how many ‘foreclosures’ actually result in foreclosure sales. We do not even know how many residential homes are encumbered by second mortgages.

“Even the best players in this field can’t tell us how many residential mortgages are on single family homes that are in fact owner occupied at the time of default,” Alexander said.

The data is important because it helps professionals see patterns and start to identify what caused the crisis and “hopefully to repair the systems that led to the harms,” Alexander said.

Alexander doubts a one-size-fits-all solution will work because there are too many “caustic variables that played very different roles in different communities.”

He praised some recent simple solutions, such as the Maryland Supreme Court ruling that lenders must prove they had a right to foreclose rather than the borrow­ers proving the lender wrong, or a locality deciding that the initial foreclosure notice must contain the name and telephone number of the party with full authority to modify all terms of the mortgage.

On the faculty since 1982, Alexander is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion and general counsel for the Center for Community Progress, a new nonprofit organization focused on helping govern­ments develop strategies to return vacant and abandoned lands to use. He testified before Congress about the mort­gage foreclosure crisis in 2008 and 2009.

“The Sam Nunn Chair was created in 1999 to recognize a distinguished professor who, through his or her teach­ing and scholarship, would convey the highest principles of professionalism and ethics,” said Dean David F. Partlett. “For Frank, to be a lawyer is an opportunity to serve.”

List: <- Back to: News Releases