No foul for tying David Trott to “human misery” of eviction work

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Who:Bobby for Michigan
What:“One Story,” 30-second video
The call:No Foul

Bobby McKenzie is a Democrat seeking the 11th congressional seat, a bizarrely shaped district northwest of Detroit that is generally favorable to Republicans. It starts out in Detroit’s western suburbs, heads north and then west, before dipping into Birmingham. McKenzie faces an uphill battle against Republican favorite David Trott. But with Trott already dubbed the Foreclosure King during his GOP primary victory over incumbent Kerry Bentivolio, McKenzie is doubling down on that attack.

This 30-second video recalls the heartbreaking case of Texana Hollis, a 101-year-old Detroiter evicted from her home in 2011 in the worst way possible – literally dumped on the street in her wheelchair, her medications thrown away – after her home was foreclosed. The eviction followed an unpaid mortgage taken out by her son. A local charity later restored Hollis’s house to her, and she died two years later, making her unavailable to play herself in any ads that recall her case.

So the McKenzie campaign’s ad agency hired an actress.

Statements under review:

“Foreclosure King Dave Trott has made millions foreclosing on Michigan’s families. Trott profited from human misery as tens of thousands of Michiganders were evicted from their homes. People like 101-year-old Mrs. Hollis, thrown out of her home of 50 years and left on the street.”

Trott & Trott is the law firm headed by David Trott, recognized as “one of the nation's largest law firms handling residential default procedures” in his own official biography. That foreclosure work, which exploded after the 2008 financial crisis, was very good for the firm’s fortunes is no secret, although it’s not something Trott brags about on the campaign trail; one of his own ads refers only to him joining “my mom and dad’s business” and expanding it from six employees to 1,800. But it cannot be denied that Trott & Trott, and its specialty in foreclosures, has made Trott wealthy; his campaign financial disclosure statements show him to have an earned income of over $1.8 million the year previous to filing, and holdings (along with his wife) of at least $60 million.

A recent story about the Trott firm’s legal work paints a picture of a suite of companies, founded or run by Trott, that caught the foreclosure wave and rode it to great profits.

The Trott firm was indeed involved in the eviction of Texana Hollis to the extent that it handled paperwork for banks and other lenders in these proceedings. No foreclosure (and eviction) is a pleasant event, especially for an old woman who was apparently unaware of her financial peril until she was physically removed from her home of many years.

The centenarian’s misery is amply emoted in the McKenzie ad by a dramatization of the sort we’ve seen on TV shows about events where cameras weren’t present. An actress playing Hollis is shown sitting in a wheelchair while black-clad men pound on her door, stomp through it, pull her into the front yard and carry out her belongings as she weeps on the street.

The call:No Foul

This ad seeks to draw a direct line from Trott to Hollis, same as the attack on Trott during his primary race. As previously noted, Hollis’s financial problems were brought on not by Trott’s firm, but by her son, who took out a loan against her house and by his own admission ignored years of repayment demands and never told his mother about the impending eviction.

Watching this ad, one is so riveted by Hollis’ dramatized plight that one hardly notices the factual assertions – that Trott “made millions” on foreclosures (undeniable) and “profited from human misery” as evictions were carried out (ditto). As Truth Squad pointed out before, Trott’s firm did not directly carry out Hollis’s eviction, though it did execute the legal foreclosure paperwork on the lender’s behalf.

Of course, lawyers who make their fortune helping lenders evict desperate people from their homes won’t win much sympathy from the public, as Trott’s opponents understand. At the same time, all parties are owed legal representation, including lenders. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it – and, perhaps, profit from it.

While this ad lays it on as thick as a silent-film reel depicting a maiden tied to the railroad tracks by a mustache-twirling villain, its claims are generally supported. Trott has made millions. And few would contest that foreclosure and eviction bring human misery. While lawyers are required to handle the legal details in these cases, it’s also true that Trott chose this line of work for himself, and it’s fair to point out how his firm earns money.

Back in April, during the primary, the first ad tying Trott to Hollis’s eviction received Truth Squad’s harshest ruling. Truth Squad awarded a Flagrant Foul because that ad claimed Trott “evicted Texana Hollis…,” which was untrue. Her eviction stemmed from the actions of (pick ‘em) her son, officials with HUD (the lender in this case) or court officials, whose choices could all be questioned in the wake of her eviction. Trott’s firm merely handled the paperwork.

This ad, by contrast, does not blame Trott for Hollis’s eviction, it merely exploits it for its full emotional potential. The narrator says “Trott profited from human misery” by his firm earning money from eviction-related work, including its work in the unfortunate case of Texana Hollis. This is undeniably true.

The Washington Post called this dramatization “one of the most brutal attack ads you’ll ever see.”

Maybe so. But factually, no foul.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:34am
Every Trott and Trott foreclosure case I ever encountered was met with a concrete wall at this law firm. They did not return phone calls, respond to letters or look for options. They were just the mill through which the lives of many Michiganders were ground. I do not want that kind of leadership in congress.
William Plumpe
Sun, 11/02/2014 - 5:47am
Trott took my home and foreclosed on it when I had to declare bankruptcy about six years ago when I lost my job. I don't remember anybody from the firm trying to help me or give me a hand. They were only interested in the money. I rank Trott somewhere between a cockroach and a sea lamprey. No compassion whatsoever. Very mercenary and very cold blooded. I know he's got a job to do but so does the executioner. This is who we want in Washington? You've got to be kidding. Based upon my experience with him he'll sell the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial to the Chinese and get a big commission on the deal too. Remember: "Not Trott not at all".