Tom Ice was a desert boy who wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. He earned the degree and everything, leaving his home in Santa Fe, N.M., to study ocean engineering at the University of Miami.
But the former high school debater had an inexplicable change of heart, one that has led him from the rhythmic comfort of the ocean to the tense arguments of the courtroom.
Ice, 50, has emerged as a Robin Hood of sorts in the tangled world of foreclosures, representing homeowners and fighting powerful law firms backed by big banks.
From his West Palm Beach home -- he doesn't have an office at his firm in Royal Palm Beach -- Ice's legal wrangling is largely recognized for contributing to the nationwide suspension of foreclosures enacted by several major lenders. On Wednesday, attorneys general from every state launched a nationwide probe of loan servicers.
Ice credits his engineering background for his attention to detail, and years of litigating for his tenacity. He was trained, he said, to doubt everything the other side says and ``look under every rock.''
What he and his wife, Ariane, found buried under boulders of foreclosure paperwork were backdated documents, affidavits sworn to by bank employees processing thousands of foreclosures a month, and questionable assignments of mortgages coming out of the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS.
After the discoveries, Ice did what any good litigator would do, he asked to depose employees involved in creating the documents.
Then, and this is what he credits much of the snowball of foreclosure suspensions to, he made the unusual move of posting the depositions on his website.
``None of this could have occurred without an exchange of information,'' said St. Petersburg foreclosure defense attorney Matt Weidner. ``Ice was absolutely instrumental and an essential key.''
Ice believes his firm was the first to depose GMAC Mortgage employee Jeffrey Stephan.
Stephan was one of the first identified ``robo-signers,'' attesting to the veracity of 10,000 foreclosure affidavits a month, and swearing to the impossible feat of personally reviewing support documentation on each.
GMAC, renamed Ally Financial, announced last month it was suspending some foreclosures. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Litton Loan Servicing, and PNC Financial Services Group followed.
``We've studied this for two years and I fear we are just scratching the surface,'' Ice said. ``It is a rabbit hole.''
Ice, who has been quoted by major U.S. newspapers about his foreclosure work, never expected to be a foreclosure attorney.
For most of his 25 years practicing law he has worked in large firms defending corporations.
But about two-and-a-half years ago, Ice, who has an 8-year-old son, decided to go out on his own, opening a one-man bankruptcy firm.
Ice soon realized he could better help his clients defending foreclosures in state court.
``The real estate attorneys would get an affidavit and say, `OK, I guess we lose,' '' Ice said. ``My thing was to say, well, let's take a deposition and file for discovery.''
Ice Legal, where the motto is ``Your home is your castle, defend it,'' now has seven attorneys working mostly foreclosure cases.
Riviera Beach resident Barbara Williams, 57, has been an Ice Legal client since 2008 when a work injury and subsequent income reduction led her into foreclosure.