Multnomah County approves $9.6 million settlement with controversial mortgage registration firm.
Chair Deborah Kafoury wants it to go to housing.
Multnomah County commissioners have approved a $9.6 million settlement of a lawsuit alleging fraud against a national mortgage registry company.
Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. was used by banks to bypass public recording requirements and fees, and critics have accused it of fueling practices that led to the 2010 national foreclosure crisis. Other lawsuits against the company have been filed around the country, with mixed results.
Of the total settlement, the county will receive $6.1 million. The remainder will go to three outside law firms the county hired to pursue the case.
In return for the money, county commissioners will be restricted on what they can say outside of public meetings. According to a script negotiated by the outside lawyers, they can say only that the case was settled and they are happy with the outcome.
Several commissioners took the opportunity to raise concerns about the "gag order" and decry the corporate behavior that led to the crisis.
"People lost their jobs, people lost their health care and people lost their homes because of this," said Commissioner Judy Shiprack. The effects are "still rippling though the lives of the people that I represent."
The county originally filed the case as a $38 million lawsuit, but last May filed an expanded lawsuit seeking damages of $160 million. The case moved from state court to federal court, then to mediation.
Initially the county only disclosed the primary settlement with MERS for $9 million in response to a records request. A subsequent request produced about a dozen related settlements with banks named in the case, bringing the total received by the county to $9.573 million.
The commissioners have made no final decision on how the county's share of the settlement will be spent. In late 2012, media reports said that former county Chair Jeff Cogen said the money would be used to help county homeowners who were subjected to non-judicial foreclosures involving MERS.
But on Thursday, current chair Deborah Kafoury said she hopes "we use these dollars to help with the very real and very personal affordable housing crisis in Mulntonah county."