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Not the Sheriff of Nottingham

Until recently, everyone in the current fiscal debacle has been playing their parts in a predictable manner.

Top banking execs who presided over multi-billion-dollar losses have parachuted out of the wreckage of their financial institutions clutching hideous ”retirement” bonuses without a shred of shame.

Federal lawmakers who blissfully deregulated the banking industry and permitted it to morph into a Jupiter-sized Three Card Monte scam have expressed outrage over the scope of the disaster and sympathy for the victims, but have done virtually nothing to mitigate the damage or to prevent it from happening again.

TV talking heads have monotonously droned about the latest surge in foreclosures and the bloodless announcements of staggering losses reported by international banking giants. These depressing fiscal bulletins usually are sandwiched between breathless coverage of the latest American Idol casualty and speculation about whether Brad and Angelina will stay together long enough to name their twins.

Nameless bewildered homeowners have publicly expressed shock at the ”unfairness” of losing a $2 million property for which they had put down $20,000 and signed a mortgage with interest rates that jumped from 5% to 500% after 24 months. Washed-up celebrities like Ed McMahon and Evander Holyfield get 15 minutes of crocodile tears from Larry King over the impending loss of their 50-acre mansions.

And, in cities and towns across the county, local law enforcement officers are executing court orders to seize foreclosed properties and auction them off.

Except, that is, in Philadelphia, because Sheriff John Green stood up in court and said ”no.”

According to a report in today’s Wall Street Journal, Sheriff Green, who has worn a badge for 37 years, astounded the legal and financial movers-and-shakers in Philly when he refused to hold court-ordered foreclosure auctions, telling the judge he no longer has the stomach to take houses away from his friends and neighbors.

Without the sheriff and his 241-person department on board to enforce the court’s action, foreclosures in Philadelphia ground to a halt. Then something interesting happened:

– The City Council opened a legal umbrella over the sheriff’s unilateral (and illegal) action by unanimously enacting a moratorium on foreclosures.

– The judge who ordered the auctions asked civic leaders, lenders’ attorneys and housing advocates to form a committee to determine which homeowners deserved a delay, aid through government programs, or at least a ”graceful exit” from their house. The committee developed a streamlined process to make loans more affordable for delinquent homeowners who still live in their houses.

– Homeowners were offered free lawyers for court-supervised ”conciliation sessions” with their loan-servicing companies. Housing counselors were provided to help servicers and their lawyers assess borrowers’ ability to pay. The lenders were not obliged to renegotiate the terms of the mortgages, but they were nudged by the court to ”make allowances.”

– One of Philadelphia’s largest law firms offered $1 million to finance borrowers’ attorneys and counselors.

– Finally, the judge ordered that sheriff sales on owner-occupied properties be suspended through next month to give all of these conciliatory activities time to mitigate the crisis.

Philadelphia has a well-earned reputation for being a very tough town. Its denizens once famously booed Santa Claus when he made an appearance at an Eagles football game.

But this month, thanks to a sheriff with a conscience, the City of Brotherly Love has lived up to its moniker.

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