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by Jordan Green

News and views from inside the media bubble 

THE MERS QUESTION

A March 2 announcement by Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen that he is seeking legal advice on whether Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, owes the county $1.3 million in lost revenue from deed transfers sent many journalists and interested observers scrambling. What the heck is MERS? In short, it’s an electronic registry that tracks mortgages for member companies such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and GMAC. Thigpen contends that MERS has undermined both his “sworn duty to protect the chain of title” and his “fiduciary responsibility to collect recording fees.” He argues, “Through their own ‘private forprofit’ Register of Deeds mortgage-tracking office, MERS has created a dangerous centralization of power whose sole purpose is to protect and serve the interests of major banking conglomerates and undermine public recording offices.” A March 5 New York Times article suggests that MERS has been at the heart of the housing crisis that led to the collapse of the market in 2008, but the company’s exact role remains somewhat murky. A New York State Supreme Court judge reviewing the company’s record “is scratching at the notion that MERS is a legal fiction. If MERS owned nothing, how could it bounce mortgages around for more than a decade?” the Times article asks. “And how could it file millions of foreclosure motions?” Then, quoting Judge Arthur M. Schack: The cases “force the court to determine if MERS, as nominee, acted with the utmost good faith and loyalty in the performance of its duties.”

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