#OccupySunday: Blood-Boiler du Jour

By Cathleen Falsani 10-30-2011

In case you missed it...

In an OpEd titled, "What the Costumes Reveal," New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote about a Halloween office party thrown by the N.Y. law firm of Steven J. Baum, an outfit that specializes in real estate foreclosures -- a "foreclosure mill," if you will -- where, apparently, employees came costumed as homeless and foreclosed-upon families.

Nocera writes:

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....

Let me describe a few of the photos. In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: "3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served." My source said that "I was never served" is meant to mock "the typical excuse" of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding. ...

A third photograph shows a corner of Baum's office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed homes. Another shows a sign that reads, "Baum Estates" - needless to say, it's also full of foreclosed houses. Most of the other pictures show either mock homeless camps or mock foreclosure signs - or both. My source told me that not every Baum department used the party to make fun of the troubled homeowners they made their living suing. But some clearly did. The adjective she'd used when she sent them to me - "appalling" - struck me as exactly right....

I saw the firm operate up close when I wrote several columns about Lilla Roberts, a 73-year-old homeowner who had spent three years in foreclosure hell. Although she had a steady income and was a good candidate for a modification, the Baum firm treated her mercilessly.

When I called a press spokesman for Steven J. Baum to ask about the photographs, he sent me a statement a few hours later. "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." It described this column as "another attempt by The New York Times to attack our firm and our work."

I encourage you to look at the photographs with this column on the Web. Then judge for yourself the veracity of Steven J. Baum's denial.

You really must see some of the photos from the Halloween party for yourself to get the full impact of what Nocera describes. It's atrocious. Outrageous. A complete and utter lack of basic human decency. A total compassion deficit.

To view the photos and read the rest of Nocera's stunning OpEd HERE.
Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners.

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