BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Banks and other mortgage companies have asked a federal appeals court to toss out a Rhode Island judge's order that stops them from moving forward on foreclosures and evictions.

Earlier this month, the companies asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to modify or vacate the stay order by Judge John "Jack" McConnell. They say McConnell's stay essentially is an injunction. They also claim he improperly forced mediation.

The mortgage companies say McConnell wrongly issued an amended order for each new complaint "without a preliminary review of the facts or a determination of the validity of the claims." Also, they say the mandatory mediation program "that lacks any time or cost limits" is too expensive.

The plaintiff homeowners say the foreclosures or foreclosures attempts are improper because of faulty mortgage assignments when the mortgages were transferred.

They argue that McConnell's "stay is not a final judgment and the orders of a special master are interlocutory and un-appealable."

Hearing the appeal in Boston on Feb. 5 were Judge Jeffrey Howard, Senior Judge Kermit Lipez and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Maura McKelvey of Boston represented the appellants in the 143 cases that joined the appeal. She said McConnell's orders violates the appellants' due process rights, according to a published report.

McConnell is a former trial lawyer whose nomination to a federal judgeship was a source of debate in the U.S. Senate. He was approved on a 50-44 vote in 2011 after Republican senators failed to gain enough votes to filibuster.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed recommended McConnell to fill a vacancy in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island. Whitehouse, then the attorney general, hired McConnell and his firm Motley Rice to file a lawsuit against the former makers of lead paint in 1999.

The state Supreme Court unanimously struck down a verdict for the plaintiffs in 2008, turning back a legal theory that said the companies created a public nuisance by making lead-based paint, even before its effects were known and the federal government banned it in 1978.

After Whitehouse left the Attorney General's Office, McConnell and his wife pumped $12,600 into his campaign fund. Whitehouse took office in 2007.

Since 2001, the McConnells have given Reed $13,200, including $8,800 for his 2008 re-election campaign.

McConnell also represented some states in their lawsuits against the tobacco industry. His work, and the work of other private attorneys, led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. It has an estimated worth of $246 billion over its first 25 years and allows for annual payments made to the attorneys who litigated the case.

A post by Judicial Watch says McConnell will receive between $2.5 million and $3.1 million annually until 2024 as a result of the settlement.

Through the years, he and his wife have given more than $600,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates, including Obama. Obama nominated him in March 2010.

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