Niko Black, a terminal cancer patient who was controversially evicted from her Garden Grove home last month by Orange County Sheriff Deputies with weapons drawn, lived long enough to finally see her day in court. Unlike a previous hearing in late July, representatives from Wells Fargo appeared before Federal Bankruptcy Judge Theodor C. Albert in Santa Ana this morning.
"It appears to the court that there may have been a violation of the stay," Albert wrote last month summoning them to explain why they shouldn't be held in contempt, sanctioned and made to pay damages for the eviction. Black had long contended that the federal court order in question from Judge Albert precluded the Orange County Sheriff's Department from carrying it out.
Despite that, leading into today's ordeal, a tentative ruling written beforehand did not bode well for Black and her motion was ultimately denied.
Prior to all this, Wells Fargo's Media Relations & Corporate Communications staffer Lisa Woolery wrote to the Weekly that, "Ms. Black has filed a total of two bankruptcies within one year. Because the second bankruptcy was filed within a year of the first one, the automatic stay against creditors Ms. Black received in the second case terminated by operation of law on the 30th day after she filed the second case."
As for not showing up in court on a prior date to reaffirm that position? "In [Wells Fargo and Carrington Mortgage Services'] case," she says, "it was believed that arguments would not be necessary on a motion that itself was no longer necessary."
Judge Albert essentially agreed with the first part, saying he was unaware somehow of the second bankruptcy--a notion the bank also submitted to him in a manner convincing his judgement.
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From his bench, Judge Albert declared that his decision was that no sanctions, nor damages would be levied against Wells Fargo for the October 10 eviction unless it could be convincingly argued otherwise.
"The bank is not without blame here" he later qualified. "They have egg all over their face."
Asked if a representative from Wells Fargo would like to explain their absence over the summer, Judge Albert said to the man who spoke on the bank's behalf, "May I suggest to you that was a tactical mistake?" arguing that a "cleaner," and "less hurtful" eviction could have been had.
"I'm, perhaps, not as of a stone heart as I appear," he added. Judge Albert wanted assurance that Black would be able to retrieve all medical equipment sometime in the next 48 hours, but that the OCSD be present to oversee matters.
Towards the end of the hearing, Attorney Stephen R. Golden emphatically argued, "This loan is one that she did not sign!" while his office has deemed it predatory in nature with high starting interest rates and a large balloon payment built in. "[Wells Fargo] did not show up to avoid showing any proof!"
"What the court did today washed its hands of the case," Golden would later say after the fact, disagreeing with Albert's actions. "The next step for us is unlawful detainer court. It decides who is in immediate possession of the property. We've also got a superior court action going, a wrongful foreclosure and quiet title lawsuit. We're going back and saying that she never signed the loan papers. We're trying to overturn the trustee sale and get the title back to her."
"Within the next week we hope to get Black back in her home, " he adds optimistically. "It might takes months if that doesn't happen."
This morning, still locked out of her Shannon Avenue home in Garden Grove, Niko Black, wheelchair bound, removed the mask covering the lower-half of her face to make one final, heart-wrenching plea before Albert's court. "They injured me so badly," she said of the October eviction. "I'm dying, your honor, I'm dying."
The motion for sanctions and damages was denied.