An Amherst law firm that specializes in foreclosures apologized Saturday for just-published photos of costumes worn by employees at a 2010 office Halloween party that were criticized as insensitive toward people who were losing their homes.
Photos of the party ran online with a New York Times column about Steven J. Baum PC, the state’s largest foreclosure law firm. The firm has previously drawn fire for its business practices and is under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The Times quoted an unidentified ex-Baum employee who emailed columnist Joe Nocera the photos and descriptions of last year’s office Halloween party. Photos posted online included people dressed to look homeless, with one of them holding a sign with a foreclosure-related message; a corner of the office decorated like foreclosed homes; and a sign reading “Baum Estates.”
The head of the firm, Steven J. Baum, said in a statement to The Buffalo News on Saturday that the photos “obviously were in poor taste.”
“On behalf of the firm, I sincerely apologize for what happened last year at our Halloween party,” he said.
Baum said the firm had its Halloween party last week at its various locations, “and we reiterated our company policy as it pertains to wearing appropriate costumes. No one is permitted to wear a costume that could be interpreted as being offensive.”
Baum said this year’s party raised money for the American Red Cross, and he mentioned other fundraising efforts his firm is involved in.
The ex-employee told Nocera that not all Baum departments used the 2010 party to mock homeowners facing foreclosure. But she told Nocera she felt what was in the pictures was “appalling.” [Nocera said he did not have details about this year’s Baum office Halloween party.]
Earlier this month, the firm agreed to pay a $2 million fine and “extensively” overhaul its practices in a settlement with the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The agreement resolved a federal investigation into whether the Baum firm, on behalf of lenders, filed misleading affidavits, mortgage assignments and other documents in state and federal courts.
The Buffalo News in April reported that State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman was investigating the firm’s practices. A spokeswoman for the office said Saturday that the investigation is ongoing but declined to comment further.
Nocera’s column had generated 175 reader comments on the Times’ website as of Saturday evening, a mixture of opinions about the pictures and mortgage foreclosures in general.
“I am appalled but find I pity those in these photos,” one reader wrote. “The lack of their empathy and humanity are apparent.”
“The photos are in bad taste but, as it was intended only as an inside joke, I think we need to keep things in context,” another reader wrote. “This picture was never meant for the greater public’s view.”