San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on challenging illegal foreclosures


KPFA Weekend News, 02.25.2012

What can the Sheriff do? What is he legally obligated to do? What can legislators and public prosecutors do? These questions need asked, now that Assessor Phil Ting's outside auditors have concluded that 84% of foreclosures in the past three years, and pending foreclosures, in San Francisco are most likely illegal.




KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones: Last week San Francisco City and County Tax Assessor Recorder Phil Ting published his outside agency review

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi of recent foreclosures, which said that 84% of foreclosures in the City of San Francisco involved such flawed documentation that they could most likely be deemed illegal. Ting said that he was turning the review over to public prosecutors, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, San Francisco DA George Gascón, and the U.S. Attorney's office, and that he thought his office might be able to stop illegal foreclosures now in process. This week Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said, in a press conference, that he will also analyze and assess San Francisco foreclosure data which could be used to “challenge questionable foreclosure evictions.” KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke with Sheriff Mirkarimi, whose office is tasked with performing those evictions.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Sheriff Mirkarimi, what can you and your staff do to help stop illegal foreclosures now in process? 
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi: First I've asked our department to start with the basics, and that is: to collect data. I've asked for a complete review of the data we get from the Plaintiff and the lending institution who are able to execute a court order for an eviction to take place, which by law the Sheriff's Department is required to facilitate. I want to make sure that I understand the impacted population that is being evicted as a result from foreclosure, whether they be property owners and/or tenants. And I'm not able to act effectively until we have proper data, and I've asked for a three-year review.
KPFA: Well, even if the impact is not good, on the affected communities, what could you do without proof that it's illegal? 
Sheriff Mirkarimi: That's the problem. The Sheriff's Department is really, almost the last stage, if not the afterthought, in being able to intercede on behalf of the property owner, on behalf of the defendant, because court orders, by state law, have to be facilitated within, literally, a number of days. I don't have the latitude or discretion, much as I would like, because there would need to be a change in state law that empowers municipal sheriffs to be able to use that discretion. So, I would want to increase our ability to challenge, when we think that there is an improper eviction resulting from a foreclosure on a tenant or a property owner. 
KPFA: The cost of fighting a foreclosure in court is estimated to be $80,000 to $120,000 dollars. Most people don't have that kind of money left once they're fighting a foreclosure. Do you think that the City should offer any kind of legal assistance?
Sheriff Mirkarimi: I do. And, I believe that, if the City wants to get to the bottom of this, something that I think that other cities have adopted, like New York City and others, is. . . we need a public advocate of sorts. We need to be able to establish the office of a public advocate or somebody, who has some statutory legal authority, but at least has the legal expertise to review or understand when an improper foreclosure is impending.
KPFA: When you were still serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, you were reported to be supporting John Avalos's proposal to explore the possibility of creating a municipal bank. Will you advocate for that, as the public official now tasked with enforcing foreclosure evictions?
Sheriff Mirkarimi: Absolutely. I love this idea. This . . . this is one of those things that I think are companion to a large progressive menu for change. And it's been simmering for many years, before Ross Mirkarimi or John Avalos or anybody else, but it's now confirmed by the greatest need of creating such an institution.  
KPFA: That was San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, on documentary evidence that the majority of recent and pending San Francisco foreclosures may be illegal.  For Pacifica, KPFA Radio, I'm Ann Garrison.



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