ACORN: AG Caldwell should have returned questionnaire

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) - After Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell criticized his organization's method for ranking the country's attorneys general, ACORN Financial Justice Center Director Austin King fired back Friday.

King said Caldwell's office "was incredibly difficult to work with," leading to the "F" ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the country's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, branded on Caldwell.

ACORN's report, released last week, graded each attorney general on how he or she is helping consumers with the country's foreclosure crisis. Caldwell was one of 12 to receive an "F".

"Like a few other offices, his was incredibly difficult to work with, refused to return the questionnaire and didn't even send a form letter declining to respond," King said. "I specifically followed up with our Louisiana leadership several times, and they told me about the numerous hoops they jumped through trying to meet with his office and get someone there to respond to at least some of the issues raised in our questionnaire.

"To be blunt, it was plain bad constituent service, and that was, after all, one of the areas we were looking at in the survey."

King added that 37 of 51 offices polled responded to the questionnaire, though ACORN has "no bone to pick with Buddy Caldwell in particular."

Caldwell admitted Thursday that he didn't feel responding to the questionnaire would allow him to adequately represent his commitment to helping consumers in the mortgage crisis.

"Our office has a solid commitment to act within the jurisdiction and power of the office to address this situation," said Caldwell, in his first year in office.

"We prepared and have sent a letter to ACORN which outlines our work in this area. We trust that ACORN will now appreciate our commitment to address the mortgage crisis and will reassess their grading."

The nine areas on which ACORN focused were:

-Disclosure and transparency of mortgage servicing data;

-Injunction against foreclosure filings from predatory lenders;

-Curbing predatory lending with federal legislation;

-Establish a direct pipeline to assist borrowers in the state;

-Seek voluntary 60-day stay for distressed borrowers in assistance pipeline;

-Federal legislation to prevent foreclosures;

-Hold town hall hearings on foreclosures with community organizations;

-Pressure companies to come to table with community organizations; and

-Support legislative solutions in the state.

For states that didn't respond, King said his staff looked up press releases and court filings associated with the areas. ACORN also tried any 1-800 hotlines designed by the attorney general to help distressed borrowers.

Caldwell, having been in office only five months, did not have much information on his site, King said.

"At the end of the day, this was a project aimed at drawing attention to the crisis and the work of attorneys general, and getting those attorneys general who have been on the sidelines to join in the fray," King said.

"I still have not seen (Caldwell's) letter, but I am grateful that his office has finally responded, and ACORN looks forward to working with General Caldwell as his office gets engaged and hopefully starts doing some A-plus work to help struggling families during these trying times."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien via e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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