SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that state lawmakers have passed "important components" of her so-called Homeowner bill of Rights.
The bills aim to better protect homeowners from scams, enhance Harris' enforcement powers and allow the attorney general to use special grand juries to prosecute multi-jurisdictional financial crimes.
"California was the epicenter of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis and scammers have been preying on vulnerable citizens who simply want to keep their homes," Harris said in a statement Wednesday.
"These bills will aid our efforts to prosecute and convict these criminals."
The bills Harris is referring to are only part of the bills in her package.
In particular, Assembly Bill 1763 and Senate Bill 1474 would allow the attorney general to convene a special grand jury to investigate and indict the perpetrators of financial crimes involving victims in multiple jurisdictions.
Both bills passed out of their respective houses unanimously with bipartisan support, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Under the two measures, a special grand jury would convene in cases involving fraud or theft that occurs in more than one county and where all potential charges are against a single defendant or multiple defendants working together.
Crimes of a financial nature often occur in multiple jurisdictions, Harris explained.
Under California's current laws, crimes where the fraud victims are all over the state require separate grand juries and charges filed in each county where the defendant committed the crime.
This legislation would provide for the option of a special grand jury that can investigate financial crimes beyond the scope of single-county grand juries, the attorney general noted.
"Unfortunately, county-by-county grand juries do not work well in dealing with large-scale wrongdoing in multiple jurisdictions," Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley and lead sponsor of SB 1474, said in a statement.
"With this bill, the attorney general can investigate multi-jurisdictional crimes -- it will provide protection when Californians need it the most."
Another bill that passed this week, Assembly Bill 1950, would extend the statute of limitations on mortgage-related crimes to three years.
The current statute of limitations of one year can make it difficult to prosecute crimes, such as the prohibition on charging upfront fees for loan modification services, Harris explained.
Because the foreclosure process is so protracted, some homeowners may not even realize they have been the victim of a scam before it is too late for prosecution, she said.
"AB 1950 equips the attorney general to do her job; to go after the bad actors that have taken advantage of homeowners. It accomplishes this by providing the attorney general with appropriate time to investigate and prosecute those who prey on California homeowners," Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles and lead sponsor of AB 1763, said in a statement.
AB 1950 passed out of the Assembly on a 46-18 vote, according to Harris' office.
Other components of the attorney general's Homeowner Bill of Rights include:
- DUE PROCESS AND FORECLOSURE REDUCTION ACT, or SB 900/AB 278. These bills are being considered by a Joint Legislative Conference Committee;
- BLIGHT PREVENTION LEGISLATION, or AB 2314/SB 1472. These bills have passed the Assembly and Senate, and now will be heard in the other house; and
- TENANT PROTECTION LEGISLATION, or AB 2610/SB 1473. These bills will be heard in the Assembly and Senate by the end of the week.
Harris has said her bill of rights builds on the nationwide mortgage settlement, making those reforms permanent and extending them to all Californians -- not just those hurt by the five banks.
In February, federal officials and 49 state attorneys general, including Harris, reached a $25 billion agreement with Wells Fargo and Co., JPMorgan Chase and Co., Citigroup Inc., Ally Financial Inc. and Bank of America Corp. over their alleged improper foreclosure practices.
Of the $25 billion, California claimed the largest portion of the pot -- $18 billion.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.