While mortgage lenders and class-action lawyers battle over fees that lenders charged, an out-of-the spotlight fight is being fought between class-action lawyers and the plaintiffs they were supposed to represent.
Several suits have been filed by disgruntled borrowers in the past two years charging that the mortgage-related class actions that they were involved in wound up doing them more harm than good.
In fact, the borrowers say the fees they paid to the lawyers who represented them were more than the settlements they received from the suits.
One such case was brought by a Maine homeowner, Dexter J. Kamilewicz, against lawyers representing him in an escrow suit against Bank of Boston. The suit charges Daniel Edelman and other lawyers with charging exorbitant fees.
Mr. Edelman has long been a thorn in mortgage lenders' sides. The Chicago-based lawyer brought well-publicized class cases against GE Capital Mortgage Corp. and Ford Consumer Finance, among others.
Mortgage lenders and their lawyers have cheered on Mr. Kamilewicz's efforts, saying that high legal fees have been their gripe with class- action lawyers all along.
"It's that classic case of class-action lawyers walking away from the decision with all the money," said Larry Platt of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Washington.
There are no restrictions on the fees that class-action lawyers can charge, he added. Mr. Kamilewicz is petitioning to have his case heard before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, yet another class action alleging the overcharging of fees has been filed against mortgage lenders.
This one, though, is unusual in that it seeks to establish defendant and plaintiff classes.
The case, Richardson v. Credit Depot Corp. of Ohio, charges several subprime lenders with charging usurious fees when collecting discount points. Named as defendants are Aames Capital Corp., Credit Depot Corp., Wendover Funding, and Ohio Mortgage Co.
The case alleges that the lenders charge points-fees paid up front-in excess of the limitations allowed by Ohio law. Currently, the law states that it is illegal for any lender to charge discount points of more than 2% of the loan amount or prepayment penalties of more than 1%.
The suit is seeking to include in the plaintiff's class any homeowner who received a mortgage after April 18, 1988.
The suit could "spell the end of B&C mortgage lending in the state of Ohio if the plaintiffs were to prevail," said the law firm of Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP, Columbus, Ohio.