Lars S. Smith's blog
Earlier in the week, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial criticizing the Massachusetts Attorney General's lawsuit against banks that did not follow the law on foreclosure procedures. The essence of the editorial is that "processing errors don't necessarily rise to the level of deception and fraud." Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts AG, responded today with a letter to the editor in the WSJ. Her main argument: "The large banks fraudulently signed foreclosure documents, made deceptive and false promises to provide loan modifications and unlawfully foreclosed on homeowners without even holding the mortgages."
I am not posting to argue the merits of the editorial or the AG's case. It was the next letter that I found interesting, as a propery professor. As part of first year property, I always cover the real estate filing system in some detail. The idea is that by creating a public system for recording instruments relating to title to property, ownership to such property is made transparent and the process for transfering property is made more efficient. However, for the system to work effectively, it is necessary for the parties that utilize the system to file timely and accurate documents. Which leads me to the letter written by John L. O'Brien, Southern Essex District Register of Deeds:
Sloppy paperwork? No, fraudulent paperwork, and let's not blame Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley for prolonging the pain for homeowners. Let's blame the real culprits who have filed to date 31,897 fraudulent documents in my Registry of Deeds alone. I challenge anyone who comes to see these stacks of documents to honestly say that this crime scene is merely "sloppy" paperwork. The real pain for homeowners is the havoc that these lenders have wreaked on the chains of title and property rights.
The solution is not to allow the lenders that created a "cyber" registry for their own self-profit to be slapped on the wrist for using fraudulent documents and for failing to record assignments of mortgages. I have been fighting for the "little guy" and I am very happy that the Massachusetts's AG has chosen to do the same.
John L. O'Brien, Letter to the Editor, Wall Street Journal, 7-8 Jan. 2102: A14. Print.
As my students (hopefully) will recall, anything filed in the registry that causes confusion as to who actually has rights to the property is a "cloud on title," making title unmarketable. Since most buyers will only accept marketable title, such clouds make selling property difficult. If the banks' failure to accurately record mortgage assignments and to follow foreclosure procedures causes homeowners to have diffculty in selling their homes, this is in fact a terrible result which will dramatically interfere with the operation of the real estate market that has up until now been efficient and effective. While the banks' actions can be dismissed as merely sloppy paperwork, shouldn't such banks be held to account when that same sloppy paperwork dramatically depreciates the single most valuable asset owned by most people?
Gene Quinn, an LL.M. classmate of mine from Franklin Pierce Law Center (now known as UNH Law and the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property), runs the web site IPWatchdog.com. As part of his efforts to be the top-rated IP website in the ABA Journal Blawg 100, he is running a promotion to encourage people to vote, where he is giving away 1 free PLI Patent Bar Review Course. If you are thinking of taking the patent bar, check it out here:
I hope to catch up blogging abou the details of teaching and lecturing in China. However, if you are interested, we have been maintaining a family blog about our personal experiences, here. Make sure to look at the archives, to catch the early part of our Fulbright experience in China.
I told the students that I would have office hours on Thursdays from 1 to 4, and that they should stop by. I told them they should feel free to come and talk about anything, not just material from the class. The Fulbright program wants the scholars to engage the students in a cultural exchange, not just to lecture. Over a dozen of them took me up on my offer, and sat in my office for over three hours!
Here are some of the questions and comments from students during my first office hours:
- Why did you quit being a lawyer, and start teaching? (because of June and July. Actually, a great question, with an easy answer for me: I fell in love with teaching while I was getting my LL.M.)
- Do you know the show Boston Legal? (to which I responded, I am Denny Crane)
- Who is my favorite actor? (Obviously, William Shatner)
- What do I think about the U.S.'s relationship with Taiwan? (Very complicated (I punted))
- Tell me about your daughters. (They were very interested in hearing about them, and were all eager to meet them.)
- Do you know the history of China? (as I admitted to them, some, but not much. I explained that Americans don't see much about China on the television, the way they see shows about the U.S. However, I cautioned them not to believe everything they see on U.S. TV shows, such as Boston Legal (I shudder to think that anyone would believe that law is actually practiced in the U.S. the way it is depicted on Boston Legal.)
- What do you think about people selling DVDs on the street? (It's bad, but it happens in the U.S., too. I told them I thought that when Chinese artists, musicians and directors started demanding to get paid, then there would be more enforcement of copyright in China. One student summarized it best: when the internal demand for stronger enforcement increases, so will the enforcement of IP laws. As I pointed out to the students, for the first century of US copyright law, we did not grant protection to foreign authors. Dickens never got paid a dime for the publication of his books in the U.S. Once the U.S. started becoming an exporter of copyrighted works, then we began broadening the scope of protection for foreign works).
- What do you think about Open Source software? (I said it's a neat idea that depends entirely on their being a strong copyright law - the GPL only works because it is backed up by copyright law.)
- Do you know Lawrence Lessig? Have you read Lawrence Lessig's book Code? (Yes, but not personally. And Yes, I read "Code", which is an excellent book)
- We would like to show you around Wuhan. Would you like to see the Provincial Museum? (Yes! and can you also take us shopping, so that we don't get ripped off by the street vendors (or as we Fulbrighters put it, paying "the foreigner" tax).
I teach all of my class on the same day, so I started out with a presentation about me and about Louisville and Kentucky. During the next hour, I gave a lecture about the structure of the US legal system, comparing it in part to a civil law system, like the Chinese legal system. I emphasized the role of courts in our system, and particularly the role of the common law. Finally I ended with a quick introduction of the sources of law governing intellectual property. I had a few questions, but I think that the students were both nervous about the first day of class, and worried about their English. We're using an electronic casebook, written by a colleague at Lewis and Clark Law School. This permitted me to be able to acquire copies for all of the students, and easily distribute it to the class. We'll see how it goes: I've never taught using a digital casebook before, so it will be interesting to see how it works.
I have also scheduled office hours for the students. My first one was today, and my office was packed. Many stayed for over three hours. I told them in class that they could stop by and talk about anything, and they sure did. It was a lot of fun.
We went shopping on Saturday at a store that carries "foreign" foods (you know, Frosted Flakes and Skippy). While cruising through the isles, I was suprised to see what I thought was the King of Beers, Budweiser. However, upon closer inspection, it turns out it was a can of Blue Diamond 啤酒 (píjiǔ)(beer), with very similar trade dress to the American classic. That immediately got me in trademark mode, trying to determine if it was in fact infringing. Anheuser-Busch has been fighting a generally losing battle against Budweiser Budvar, including in China, but this beer appears to be Chinese, and does not use the word "budweiser" on the can. However, the color scheme is similar, and the name Blue Diamond empasizes the letters "B" and "D", perhaps to remind a consumer of the term "Bud"? What do you think?
The last couple of days has been spent getting our children into school in Wuhan. We found a school online before we left which is not too far from the Zhongnan University campus, called the Wuhan Maple Leaf Foreign Nationals School. We went by on Monday to enroll Lindsey and Alison, and were very impressed with what we saw. The Maple Leaf School has a huge campus, comprising the small foreign nationals part, and the very large school for chinese students wishing to attend middle and high school in English. It's modeled on the educational system in British Columbia, Canada (in fact it's certified by their department of education). Lindsey and Alison are taking classes in English, taught by Canadian teachers. After figuring out how to pay the tuition (in US Dollars) and the uniform and transportation fees (in Chinese RMB), we got the kids enrolled. They attended their first classes Tuesday. Lindsey and Alison had a great time, they really like their teachers (a husband and wife team, as it turns out), and don't even mind wearing the uniforms!
The big challenge happend last night (Tuesday evening for us) when Lindsey handed us the list of supplies she needed for class: Calculator, ruler, highlighters, blue pen, red pen, 8 A4-sized notebooks, and finally, a protractor. So, after contacting the student assigned to me to assist with getting us settled to find out where the supply store was located, I headed off to do my shopping. I found the store (yay, me!), but I was having trouble finding everything. The daughter of the manager came over, and in her best Chinese, asked what I was looking for. OK, so, how do you say "protractor" or "glue" in Chinese? I pulled out my handy iPhone, and using my Pleco Chinese dictionary, we worked our way through the store, and managed to get everything.