Article Courtesy of The Tampa
By Susan Taylor Martin
November 18, 2016
In the aftermath of the housing crash, Tampa Bay attorney Mark Stopa
became one of Florida's best known foreclosure defense lawyers. The New
York Times, USA Today and other papers quoted him in stories. He drew
national attention with a contest in which he offered a free house to a
"I love the concept of helping people stay in their houses, avoid
getting foreclosed,'' the boyish-looking Stopa says in a YouTube video.
But in its second
complaint against him since 2013, the Florida Bar
details two instances in which Stopa's clients nearly
lost their homes — one, when he failed to tell her that
he had made a cash-for-keys deal; the other, when he
failed to tell her that she had been approved for a
trial loan modification.
The 21-page complaint also accuses Stopa of ignoring
judges' orders and acting boorishly. A Sarasota County
judge had him removed from her courtroom because of
"disrespectful and disruptive behavior.'' A Manatee
County judge recused himself from all cases involving
Stopa because of his conduct. And a Pinellas judge had
to intercede when Stopa, in a "loud, aggressive''
manner, repeatedly rebuffed a process server's attempts
to serve him with summonses.
In two brief phone conversations Thursday, Stopa, 40,
said the Tampa Bay Times was trying to "sully'' his
"Why don't you write about the thousands of cases I've
gotten dismissed?'' he said. "I work hard for people, I
work tirelessly for people.''
Mark Stopa, a well-known foreclosure defense
lawyer from the Tampa Bay area, is in trouble with the Florida
In his formal response to the Bar complaint, Stopa denied the
allegations. The Florida Supreme Court has appointed Hillsborough County
Judge Jennifer X. Gabbard to hear witnesses, receive evidence and
recommend discipline, if any. Punishment could range from admonishment
to suspension or disbarment.
After the market crashed, many Floridians faced with losing their homes
turned to attorneys who promise to "fight the bank'' and stop — or at
least delay — foreclosure. Tensions in courtrooms with huge foreclosure
dockets sometimes ran high as defense attorneys tangled with lawyers for
the banks, which often were accused of fraud and deceit, too.
Stopa is not the only foreclosure defense lawyer who has run into
trouble recently. Pasco County attorney Constantine Kalogianis was
arrested last month on felony charges of doctoring court records to
benefit his clients.
On his website, stayinmyhome.com, Stopa says he has represented hundreds
of people facing bankruptcy or foreclosure in the Tampa Bay and Orlando
areas. Among them were Rosalie Coyne, who hired him in 2013 to work out
a loan modification with Wells Fargo on her St. Petersburg house.
According to the Bar, Coyne paid Stopa $1,575 for the first year of
representation although he never met with her, spoke with her or
attempted to negotiate a modification. In 2014, she gave Stopa a total
of $1,650 in post-dated checks — his fees for the second year — but
stopped payment on the final two checks because "she believed (he) was
not acting in her best interest,'' the complaint says.
Unbeknownst to Coyne, who told Stopa she wanted to keep her house, he
and an associate worked out a settlement with Wells Fargo that included
a cash-for-keys payment of $1,500. The associate, though, told the bank
that the payment should go to Stopa's firm, not to Coyne. Stopa falsely
claimed that Coyne couldn't sign the settlement paperwork but had agreed
to the terms, the complaint says.
On Feb. 13, 2015, the case went to trial. Stopa was not present as Wells
Fargo's attorney told the judge — with Coyne listening — that the
parties had reached an agreement.
Only then did "Ms. Coyne discover that (Stopa) had settled her case
without her authorization and that she had 60 days to vacate her home,''
the complaint says.
Coyne fired Stopa, rejected the agreement and negotiated a modification
on her own. She is still in her house.
In Coyne's case, "Stopa engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud,
deceit or misrepresentation,'' the complaint alleges.
In a similar case, an Orange County woman, Maria Said, almost lost her
house because Stopa didn't tell her that Bank of America had approved
her for a trial loan modification plan, the complaint says. Instead,
Stopa pressured her into accepting cash for keys and falsely told her
the bank had offered $11,000. In fact, the offer was for $15,000 — Stopa
wanted to keep $4,000 for his fees, according to the complaint.
Only after the house was set for a foreclosure auction last year did
Said learn about the modification plan. The sale was canceled, Stopa
withdrew from her case and she negotiated a modification on her own.
Stopa, a University of Florida law school graduate licensed in 2002, is
also in hot water over courtroom behavior.
In Sarasota, Judge Nancy Kane Donnellan had him removed from her
courtroom two years ago because of conduct that included "lecturing the
judge and opposing counsel on procedure... throwing his arms up when the
judge ruled in a manner contrary to (his) wishes... arguing with the
judge on multiple occasions and turning his back on the judge'' after
she ruled against him, the Bar says.
And in Manatee County, a sheriff's deputy escorted Stopa out of Judge
Thomas Gallen's courtroom because of "his statements impugning (Gallen's)
character and loud outbursts towards individuals in the courtroom.'' The
judge later recused himself from hearing any of Stopa's cases.
In 2013, the Bar filed its first complaint against Stopa for misconduct
in two unrelated cases.
He was publicly reprimanded for impugning the integrity of a Polk County
judge in a motion questioning the judge's impartiality and accusing him
of a decision that "reeks.''
In the second case, Stopa was reprimanded for failing to disclose in
court that a company he represented had agreed to give back a house it
bought in a foreclosure sale if the owner paid $12,500 in homeowner
association dues. The agreement came to light only after Stopa moved to
evict the owner even though he had made the payments.
A different image of Stopa emerges in a YouTube video in State Farm's
Simple Acts of Kindness series. In it, he says he had met so many people
in hard circumstances that he decided to give away a house.
"As many people as I helped, I haven't been able to help everyone,
certainly not as much as I would like,'' Stopa says on the video, viewed
almost 31,000 times. "I wanted to be able to give back to more people.
My son, when I was tucking him in one night, in a sweet voice said, 'why
don't you give away a house, Daddy?'"
Stopa said the contest drew hundreds of letters: He ultimately chose a
woman whose daughter had brain cancer. He also gave four other people
$5,000 each, on the condition they raise a matching amount for an
organization that helps children with special needs.
"Some of them have told me that I'm their hero,'' Stopa says, "and I've
told them they're my hero. One person can make a different in a
community, one person can create change and that's a cool thing.''