October 2008 Ethical Hero – Sheriff Tom Dart

Published: October 13, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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Sheriff Tom DartEarlier this month, Chicago Sheriff Tom Dart “…announced his office will quit carrying out evictions from mortgage foreclosures,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported, “until lenders start providing proof they have taken the necessary steps to identify who is living at an address and that those facing eviction have received proper legal notice.”

In his own words, Dart defended his actions.

“As Cook County sheriff, I am responsible for running a 10,000-inmate jail, providing patrols to unincorporated areas and securing the courts.

“But perhaps no part of our job is as difficult as the work done by our eviction units. On any given day, our deputies could be asked to throw a family out of their home, with all of their possessions left on a curb…

“Where mortgage firms see pieces of paper, my deputies see people.

“Yet no matter how difficult they are, evictions are part of our job.

“What isn’t part of our job, however, is to carry out work on behalf of the multi-billion-dollar banks and mortgage industries.

“Too many times, our deputies arrive at a home to carry out a mortgage foreclosure eviction, only to find a tenant — dutifully paying their rent each month — who is unaware their landlord stopped using that rent money to pay the mortgage. They had no fair warning that they were about to be thrown out of their home.

“That’s because, in many cases, the banks have done nothing to determine, in advance, who’s living in the building — even though it’s required by state law. Instead, those banks expect taxpayers to pay for that investigative work for them.

“That stops today.

“We won’t be doing the banks’ work for them anymore.

“We won’t surprise tenants with an eviction order intended for their landlord.

“I may be held in contempt of court over this. If that’s the case, I’m willing to accept it though I believe most judges in Cook County share my desire to find a solution for this mess.

“We’re asking either the state courts or Legislature to order the banks to simply conduct very basic work before requesting an eviction.

“I’ve come to this point after spending the last year trying to work with the banking industry, even asking the Legislature to pass a bill requiring them to — at a minimum — let us know if any children, disabled or senior citizens live at the home, so we can connect them with social services. That effort was killed by banking industry lobbyists.

“Until the banking industry steps up and does the right thing, I won’t continue to risk violating the law and open taxpayers to further liability.”

In the words of last month’s Ethical Hero, Judy Meisel, “One person can do a lot!”


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