Court Won’t Unseal Files on Washington Mutual Appraisal Scheme

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Court Won’t Unseal Files on Washington Mutual Appraisal SchemeA federal judge said he will not unseal files related to an alleged appraisal rigging scheme that Washington Mutual launched in an effort to favor mortgage lenders just before the 2008 market crash, Courthouse News Service reported Dec. 3.

The case involves a federal class action suit launched in 2008 in San Jose, California, by Felton Spears Jr. and Sidney Sholl who claimed that Washington Mutual, Lender’s Service Inc. and appraisal management firm First American eAppraiseIT colluded in 2006 to create inflated mortgage-loan appraisals that allowed the bank to sell aggregated security interests in the properties at inflated prices.

At Washington Mutual’s direction, eAppraiseIT and Lender’s Service hired former bank employees as appraisal business managers who could override the values determined by third-party appraisers, the complaint alleged, Courthouse News reported.

A California court dismissed most of the case in 2009, with the exception of a claim against eAppraiseIT under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

When plaintiffs in the case subpoenaed the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for documents that the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations cited in a 2011 report, the comptroller objected to the subpoena, noting that many files may be privileged even though they had previously been released to the Senate under seal and without waiver of any privileges, Courthouse News reported.

After the plaintiffs narrowed their search to 15 specific documents, the comptroller’s office claimed it could not find them and the plaintiffs then moved to compel compliance with the subpoena in October 2013.

Once the comptroller’s office located the documents, they notified the plaintiffs that they were withholding three files based on attorney-client privilege, the attorney work-product doctrine and the deliberative-process privilege, even though they waived privilege when they voluntarily gave the files to the Senate, Courthouse News reported.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth denied the motion, ruling that documents produced under subpoena are not voluntarily disclosed. The ruling means that the documents will remain sealed.

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