Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lorraine Coyle is queen of Bronx court appointments

Courthouse Patronage: Second in a series

By Carla Astudillo

Bronx Supreme Court judges appointed receivers to collect rent, manage buildings’ finances and ensure that properties remain habitable in 163 foreclosure cases from 2007 to 2011.

As the city’s housing bubble was bursting, the number of first-time foreclosure auctions for residential properties in New York City began rising in 2006. It reached an all-time high in 2008. That year saw 3,874 foreclosure auctions.

Since then, foreclosures have steadily declined, reaching a seven-year low of 912 in 2012.

But the number of properties in the earliest stages of foreclosure is once again on the rise, from 10,464 in 2011 to 11,877 in 2012.

This spike in foreclosures has taken a toll on the court system. New York is a judicial foreclosure state, meaning that a judge must approve each foreclosure before the property can be sold. Because of the high volume of foreclosure cases in the New York courts, the length of the foreclosure process in New York City has doubled. In 2006, the average length was 12 months. Now, the average length is 1,089 days or roughly three years.

Attorney Lorraine Coyle has earned more than $220,000 in fees from court appointments she’s received from Bronx judges since reforms went into effect in June 2003. Her total earnings from such positions is $430,000, according to data available from the state’s Office of Court Administration.

She’s well positioned to know judges. A former candidate for political office herself, she is the wife of longtime councilman — and one-time state attorney general — Oliver Koppell. Both are active in the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, which awards crucial endorsements to judges in elections.

From late 2008 through 2009, most of Ms. Coyle’s receivership appointments came from two judges, Edgar Walker and the now-retired Alan Saks. Both were endorsed by the Ben Franklin Club in each of their elections.

Judge Saks said Ms. Coyle was a good choice. Referring to one instance in which he’d selected Ms. Coyle as a receiver for a property in foreclosure, Judge Saks said he chose her from the list of individuals approved for such work because he had known her for many years and believed she was an excellent lawyer with great integrity.

“She’s in the real estate business and knew a lot about it so I had confidence in her ability,” he said.

On Nov. 6, 2008, he assigned Ms. Coyle as a receiver at 54 E. 167th St. Bank officials, however, said Ms. Coyle was hard to reach. Linda Mandel Gates, who represented HSBC bank, which held the mortgage on the property, complained in a court document that Ms. Coyle was for months “unresponsive to the [mortgagor’s] needs and never qualifying in her capacity as court-appointed receiver.”

Ms. Coyle eventually agreed. On Oct. 15, 2009 — almost a year after her appointment— Ms. Coyle wrote a letter to the judge.

“I have concluded that until I become learned in the obligations of a receiver I should not accept any receiverships,” stated the letter. “I will spend a fair amount of time speaking with other relatives and managing agents to get the pulse of this responsibility.”

“I am sorry that this has taken so long to resolve,” she added. 

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