By Will Forgrave, MLive.com, Aug. 8, 2013
JACKSON, MI – After fighting for three years to keep his home, disabled former teacher S. Baxter Jones now has until the end of the month to leave it.
Surrounded by more than 50 friends and supporters, Jones was evicted under court order and must vacate the Napoleon Township property by Aug. 31.
Jones appeared before Judge Michael Klaeren in 12th District Court on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 8. He has been in eviction proceedings since 2010, after falling behind on his house payments.
Jones said he had few other options but to take his case to court after becoming severely disabled in a car accident in 2005 and losing his job in 2010. Jones is a former middle school physical education teacher and track coach at Fisher Magnet Middle School in Detroit.
He said his mortgage company – federal giant Fannie Mae – would not work with him after the accident. Fannie Mae owns the house in the 8000 block of Rexford Road.
“No loan modification, no forbearance,” he said. “I told them I was going to be on Social Security soon, but fell behind when they wouldn’t work with me.”
Jones and attorney Jerry Goldberg requested a relief of judgment and a freeze on the eviction Thursday. Fannie Mae lawyer Josie Lewis requested the case be closed and Jones evicted.
“The eviction has been delayed at least one or two times already,” Klaeren said. “I don’t see that what we have here constitutes misconduct that mandates a relief of judgment. If I would rule in Jones’ favor, and this case would be used as a precedent, our justice system would come to a halt.”
Jones, 57, bought what he called his “dream home” in 2002. After he lost his job in January 2010, Jones said he was able to make payments until October 2010 before he ran out of money.
“My client requested forbearance on his payments in October 2010 when he was pursuing Social Security disability,” Goldberg said. “When he was awarded disability we would have asked for a modification, but was never given the chance in the first place.”
Jones, who now resides in Detroit with friends, has been in a wheelchair since he was rear-ended on the freeway when returning from a trip to Kentucky. He suffered a severe closed head injury, can no longer keep his balance and his speech is slow and slurred.
Goldberg said the decision by Klaeren was “tragic.”
“Fannie Mae is not just a big corporation but the federal government,” he said. “They’re using our tax dollars to evict an individual that is disabled and who has worked within their rules to try and get his house back.”
According to court records, Jones filed for bankruptcy in February and was offered an exemption on his eviction until Friday, Aug. 9. During bankruptcy proceedings, the house was assessed to be worth $58,000.
“We have since put an offer in on the house for that amount with the help of nonprofits and donations,” Goldberg said. “(Jones) isn’t looking for a handout, he’s just asking that Fannie Mae allow him to buy his house back.”
Lewis said Jones’ argument was flawed during the proceedings Thursday.
“The defendant argues that he can get a judgment set aside due to unfairness with no need for legal precedent,” she said. “My client is not required to sell the property. They have ownership, and they can do with the property what they wish.”
Jones’ 50-some supporters took two buses from Detroit and rallied in front of the court beginning about 9 a.m. Thursday. The majority of his supporters are with Moratorium NOW!, a Detroit-based coalition that is fighting for a stop to foreclosures in the state.
“Since 2008 we’ve advocated for a two-year moratorium on foreclosures,” group member Erik Shelley said. “Everyone in foreclosure needs some time to straighten everything out.”
Shelley said Jones’ foreclosure case is just one example in a “statewide epidemic.”
Detroit resident and organization member Carol Kronberg agreed.
“Fannie Mae was bailed out and now they’re turning around and the people are getting put out,” she said. “It’s sickening.”
Contact Will Forgrave at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-262-7554. Follow him on Twitter at @WillForgrave.