You ever have one of those days? Wednesday was a doozy for Baltimore. First, the city's embattled mayor, Sheila Dixon, finally resigned more than a month after being convicted of embezzlement. Then, in a devastating opinion, federal district judge Frederick Motz dismissed Baltimore's groundbreaking claim against Wells Fargo bank, for targeting African-American communities for sub-prime mortgages.
Motz rejected the city's claim that Wells Fargo's push of sub-prime loans in Baltimore has contributed to the deterioration of the inner city by leaving neighborhoods ravaged by foreclosures. Instead, Judge Motz attributed the city's problems to "extensive unemployment, lack of educational opportunity and choice, irresponsible parenting, disrespect for the law, widespread drug use, and violence."
Which seems beside the point. Baltimore only sought to hold Wells Fargo responsible for its contribution to those conditions, not make the mortgage giant pick up the tab for all of society's ills. Sounds like the judge got The Wire box set for Christmas!
The city's Wells Fargo case was the first of its kind filed in the country and had been watched by other jurisdictions pressing similar claims. Early discovery in the Baltimore case had already resulted in sworn statements from former Wells Fargo employees claiming that sub-prime loans were referred to as "ghetto loans" by some Wells Fargo lenders, who steered sub-prime loans to blacks. It was hoped that further discovery in the case would reveal the inner workings of Wells Fargo's sub-prime activities in minority communities. The city also hoped to recoup some of the costs that it has been compelled to lay out, to shore up neighborhoods and to support families devastated by the proliferation of foreclosures.
Judge Motz's decision may be appealed, but given the dismal track record of cases of this kind in other jurisdictions, the prospects don't look promising. Several similar cases against Wells Fargo are still pending, including one recently filed by the city of Memphis, Tenn. Here's hoping the rest of the week looks up for Baltimore. You hear that Ravens?
Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a regular contributor to The Root.