Fourth case reopened after Center uncovers judicial conflict of interest

New panel of judges reaches same conclusion in Maryland foreclosure case

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A federal appeals court has scrapped a 2010 foreclosure ruling in favor of Wells Fargo Bank after a Center for Public Integrity investigation revealed that one of the three judges who participated in the decision owned stock in the banking giant.

But Mountaga and Michelle Johnson Bah, the couple fighting to keep their Bowie, Maryland, home, didn’t get the decision they wanted when a new panel of judges reopened the case. On June 10, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals once again dismissed the couple’s claims accusing Wells Fargo of predatory lending.

“I do not agree with it,” Mountaga Bah said of the most recent judgment.

“I’m not going to give up,” he added. “I am not going to leave my home.”

The Virginia-based appeals court reopened the case at the Bahs’ request. The couple had challenged the judgment after the court acknowledged in March that Judge Barbara Keenan owned $1,900 worth of stock in Wells Fargo at the time she participated in the 2010 ruling favoring the bank.

In a May 27 letter to the court, Bah called the original appeals court judgment unfair and urged the court to reopen the case. “The only decision we are looking for is the dismissal of the decision and to save our home with our three little girls,” he wrote.

The Center identified the conflict while reporting its months-long “Juris Imprudence” investigation, which found 26 examples since 2010 where federal appellate judges ruled on cases in which they had a financial conflict. By law, judges cannot own even a single share of stock in companies that come before them. 

In response to the Center’s findings — and as required under court rules — judges in all of those cases had letters sent to the litigants to alert them of the conflicts. The letters were the first step in possibly reopening the cases.

Keenan’s case is the fourth to be reopened due to the Center’s reporting.

Of those cases, one other case had a panel reach the same decision as the first. In April, the 4th Circuit favored General Electric in a civil rights suit after an initial decision was thrown out because Judge Allyson Duncan controlled an estate that held stock in the company.

Two other cases are still pending. Many of the others remain in limbo.

Jim Hines, a spokesman for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, declined to discuss the Bah foreclosure case in detail. “We believe the decision was appropriate,” he said.

For now, the Bahs remain in their home, partly because they filed for bankruptcy in 2009. But Bah said he is struggling to keep up with mortgage payments. And he said he is feeling overwhelmed by the legal process.

Despite the latest setback, though, he said he will continue his legal fight against Wells Fargo. Bah said he is currently looking for an attorney to help him file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.