Maybe it’s because I’ve done so much reporting on the foreclosure fraud issue, but I have to admit to some surprise that the firing of two Assistant Attorney Generals down in Florida, the hotbed of the housing crisis, hasn’t gotten much attention nationally. In my mind, this is the state-based equivalent of the US Attorney scandal. You have a conservative Attorney General who has fired two investigators who were tasked by a previous Republican regime with finding violations of the law. When they proved too effective for the next regime to stomach, they were canned. And now, the new AG, Pam Bondi, is smearing their reputations.

Let’s first give some background. Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson were heading up investigations in the Florida Attorney General’s office on a series of crimes for over a year. Former AG Bill McCollum put them on this task, and they executed. Their interviews and collections of data were essential in rooting out fraud among document processors like Lender Processing Services, and the scores of foreclosure mill law firms operating in the state. Their presentation, “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” was so influential on the issues of fabricated and forged documents, that it is being used as evidence in a New York foreclosure fraud case against HSBC. The servicer for many HSBC loans, Ocwen, is cited repeatedly in Clarkson and Edwards’ report.

And then, in late May, they were forced to resign by the new AG, Pam Bondi.

“It just came out of nowhere,” said Edwards, who had worked in the attorney general’s economic crimes section for more than three years. “We were completely stunned.”

Less than a month before they were forced out, a supervisor cited their work as “instrumental in triggering a nationwide review of such practices.” Now, Edwards is convinced their sudden dismissals will have “a chilling effect” on those probes into the shoddy foreclosure practices that caused national outrage when they made headlines last fall.

Edwards and Clarkson weren’t even given notice or a severance package; they were just told May 20 that they could resign or be fired, and would lose their association with the AG office by close of business that day.

I don’t think you can deny that this was a politically motivated firing. These investigators dug too deep and uncovered too much fraud happening in a very powerful industry. And their investigations were catching the eye of other AGs, threatening to have a national impact. So they had to go.

Now, after the fact, Bondi is publicly smearing Edwards and Clarkson.

Bondi refused to explain the firing for a week after the story broke. But Thursday afternoon, after a week of media coverage featuring the two lawyers, she changed her mind.

A lengthy statement released by Bondi’s chief of staff Carlos Muniz said that the two women were let go from the agency’s Fort Lauderdale office because of problems related to “proper identification and analysis of legal issues … judgment in discussing matters related to pending investigations with third parties … and … professionalism to opposing counsel.”

They were given the right to resign rather than be fired, Muniz’ statement said, adding that “their performance was unacceptable, but they had not engaged in deliberate misconduct.”

But the women’s evaluations, turned over by the Attorney General’s Office, have been consistently high. Edwards’ aggressive demeanor toward opposing counsel were noted in a review last September, but she was also called a “go-to” person. Clarkson also received positive reviews.

This could have a deleterious impact on Clarkson and Edwards’ future employment. They have set up a private law firm focused on foreclosure defense. Now this public scolding from Bondi, with its focus on professionalism, will damage their ability to gain clients.

Clarkson and Edwards claim that under Bondi, they felt pressure to ease up on their investigations. Their supervisors suddenly began questioning their findings. “Obviously we did our job too well,” Theresa Edwards told the Orlando Sentinel.

This is disgusting and deserves wide attention. You have a Republican Attorney General engaged in politically motivated firings that will allow criminals to go free and hurt hundreds of thousands of homeowners being ripped off by the system.

David Dayen

David Dayen