STCRP Attorney: Warranty Deeds Cheat Colonia Residents

By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
by permission

This week I interviewed Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, an attorney with the South Texas Civil Rights Project. STCRP has offices on Cesar Chavez Road in San Juan, behind the historic farm worker (UFW) hall, and is always doing something to help the poor and stop injustice here in the Rio Grande Valley.

Braune: Counselor, I understand that you have been to court this week on an important issue. Some of your clients who have purchased property in the colonias have later found out that there was some nasty catch in the contract process. (Frankly, my wife and I bought a house a few years ago and it was a complicated and tiring process, and I can see how someone could sign something they shouldn’t sign, if that is the problem.) Anyhow, do tell us a bit about what is happening to these families in the colonias.

Spencer-Scheurich: When the families go in to sign the closing documents, they get all the normal paperwork that gives them title in their name and gives the seller the right to foreclose if the families don’t pay. Here’s the problem: Included in the paperwork, is a Warranty Deed transferring title back from the buyer to the seller.

So the same day the families get title to the property and become owners, they sign title back to the sellers unconditionally. The families walk away thinking that they are buying the property, when really they own nothing. The sellers keep this second title document from the families in their files and use it whenever they want to kick the buyers off the property as easily as evicting a renter. The sellers are getting away with avoiding the foreclosure laws designed to give a level of protection to the buyers.

Braune: It seems to me like a clear injustice.

Spencer-Scheurich: Yes. Families sign the documents because the seller exploits an imbalance in education and knowledge. First, many of the buyers don’t speak or read English. They are depending on the seller to translate. Also, many of these families are first generation Mexican-American, with little familiarity with how the American property laws work. And the paperwork is difficult; even I had a hard time navigating and understanding all of the documents that went along with the purchase of my house.

Finally, if families ask about the Warranty Deed that they are signing, they are reassured that the document won’t be filed unless they are behind on their payments. The problem is that title is effective the moment it is signed and delivered. A signed title can sit in a drawer for decades and then be used to prove ownership as if it were signed the day before. The situation is a ticking time bomb that could deprive people of land that they have paid on for years and leave them with little recourse.

It is unjust to exploit those who are working for a better life and looking for the American Dream in purchasing their own property by setting them up to fail while taking all of their money.

Braune: How many do you estimate at this point may be affected?

Spencer-Scheurich: From our searches of public property records, we believe that all of the San Cristobal and 493 Estates colonias in rural Edinburg are affected. In San Cristobal, as many as 180 lots are affected, and in 493 Estates it is at least a couple dozen. We also believe that the developer, William Schwarz, has developed other colonias and is using the same documents.

Braune: Here’s a dumb question. When a house is bought from the developers with this contorted contract arrangement, there is no bank involved. Is that right? When we bought our house, the bank seemed to want to know every detail.

Spencer-Scheurich: That is right — no bank is involved. It is common in the colonias for property purchases to not have a title company or bank involved. The properties are owner-financed for extraordinarily high interest rates, in this case 16%. To be fair, many of the people buying would have a hard time getting traditional bank loans, but no one is such a bad credit risk that they deserve that type of financing. It makes it almost impossible for people to get ahead.

Braune: What are you trying to accomplish in the long run?

Spencer-Scheurich: In the long run, I am trying to prevent this from happening to other families. I also am blowing the whistle on this practice so that we can resolve the title problem long before this ticking time bomb blows up on the families who will struggle to pay their mortgage on time for years, just to find out that they gave away title at the very beginning. I also think that it’s time we get the legislature to pass a law that protects people from these inherently fraudulent transactions. We have seen this work for Contracts for Deed, predatory loans that have been highly regulated to protect consumers.

Braune: Thanks for this interview and the important work you are doing.


Measuring Medical Racism

Racism is something you can count. In today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, racism in the emergency room is reduced to an “odds ratio” of .66, which means that an African American who reports pain to an emergency room doctor is less likely to be prescribed the kinds of strong pain relief given to white patients.

Does this mean that emergency room doctors are bigots? If a bigot is someone who is aware of, and who acts upon, prejudicial intentions; then no, it does not follow from the evidence that doctors are bigots.

Is the medical profession racist? If by racist we mean a detectable level of unfair treatment, then yes, it is necessarily true that the medical profession is racist, at least as far as the evidence shows.

The puzzle of course is how we can make strong claims about racism while we must discount inferences of bigotry.

The short answer for the puzzle lies in our common heritage of culture and language. For example in “The Great Debaters” we see how the poet Melvin B. Tolson is aware that his use of the word “denigrate” embeds in his own language a racist aversion to African beings. He is no bigot, but he cannot escape a common culture of racism. Even the great Tolson would have to watch himself for signs of an “odds ratio” at work in his habits.

But then it is not enough to say, well, if Tolson uses racist language, then we are all equally at fault. Because Tolson is actively working to boost the odds ratio up to one. And Tolson knows that because there are a thousand ways to do this, he must be busy at it all the time, along multiple dimensions.

Despite the fact that statistics are required skills for most college graduates today, I’m afraid to say that college level education correlates very poorly with awareness of the racism that works in terms of an “odds ratio.”

Last time I looked carefully at the numbers, resistance to affirmative action was highest among people who should know better: middle class, white, male, college educated folk. How can one understand the statistical significance of “odds ratios” in our world and at the same time oppose institutional redress in the form of affirmative action? Is it bigotry again? Denigration without reflection?

Look at Tolson’s example. Does Tolson say, “before we can begin to struggle for intellectual equality, we must first organize economic solidarity with our white brothers”? No, Tolson does not deploy the kind of logic which asserts that we can work only on one institution at a time. He would not say: “put off de-segregation in college until we have achieved equal education in K-12.” No, he’d be busy doing both at the same time.


PS: And should we not ask whether there might be some “odds ratio” at work in the critical language of Hollywood film reviews, when some directors are hailed for their “style” while others are denigrated for “formula”?


Another Ballot Box Story from Texas

I am the County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County [on the Eastern

border of Kaufman County]. On Election Day, I had to appoint myself as a poll watcher in one of our

minority precincts.

The GOP election judges there were essentially doing everything they

could to prevent African Americans from voting. Two judges and I nearly got in a fight, I called one a

racist, and it was very ugly.

Among other things, they accused an African-American woman

of fabricating a driver’s license. Her maiden name was on the license, but her married name in the

poll book. Address, middle name, all else, were the same. Refusing to call the County Clerk as

prescribed by law, they tried to force her to vote a provisional ballot. I argued with them for over 20

minutes, during which time the entire line was held up. The woman was finally allowed to vote an actual

ballot, but after tremendous problems.

They also refused to tell voters what constituted

ID if they didn’t have ID. In one instance, since poll watchers can’t talk to voters, I finally told

the election judge, “look, you have to tell her that x, x, x, x, x, x, x and x constitute a form of

ID.” The woman heard this and produced her only form of ID–an insurance card with her SSN, address,


[Vince Leibowitz, via email Jan. 1, 2005]

Higher Education Uncategorized

Our Thesis vs Ayn Rand Institute

The Dec. 15 OpEdge of the Forth Worth Star Telegram, presents our first-week response to the

Texas A&M announcement alongside a very different opinion from the Ayn Rand Institute.

Like every other response to the Texas A&M opinion, the Ayn Rand Institute refuses to

deal with the fact that Texas higher education is under federal supervision for de-


Therefore the Ayn Rand Institute can present the following argument:

(1) “integration” is a worthy goal (2) “diversity” is not (3) Texas A&M is correct to abandon

affirmative action as a means to diversity. But what if (4) “de-segregation” was the original intent

of affirmative action at A&M and (5) “de-segregation” has not yet been completed? Then are we not

back to step one above: “integration”? The only thing standing between the Ayn Rand Institute and

the proper conclusion is consideration of a crucial fact: Texas higher education is not yet integrated.

Therefore, integration is the worthy reason why affirmative action should be continued.

The Ayn Rand Institute, like all other eyes of Texas, is looking chiefly at the

framework of “diversity” when the framework of “de-segregation” is more relevant. But the eyes of

Texas have been deliberately led in the direction of “diversity” by the magicians who crafted the

vanishing of affirmative action at Texas A&M.

Curiously enough, the much-watched debate

between campus president Gates and campus conservatives in the weeks leading up to the president’s

announcement served to solifiy an impression that “diversity” was the relevant framework for civil

rights policy at Texas A&M.

Let history reflect that the state’s initial reaction to

the Gates announcement was completely swept into the corner of diversity. No discussion of the

state’s obligations to de-segregation has yet taken place.

See the OpEdge page here.


Brief Replies to Arguments Regarding ''The Great Debaters''

By Greg Moses


“The Great Debaters” is an invitation to many things. For the Texas Civil Rights Review, it is first of all an invitation to the heroism of the Texas civil rights tradition. The specific tradition of Wiley College and its heroes has been close to my heart for about two decades, and it would be difficult to imagine working on the civil rights project without regarding Tolson and both Farmers as historical mentors.

Therefore, it was with an excited urgency that I went to see the film, approaching it like a beautifully wrapped holiday surprise. And people who have seen the film overwhelmingly agree that it is a beautiful film, lovingly crafted by each artist who took part.

And yet some of Denzel Washington’s artistic choices have been questioned, especially his decision to script a climactic debate at Harvard. One of our correspondents persists in this line of questioning. It is just too much license says our reader. As long as the film lives, no doubt this will persist as a talking point. What are we to think about the artistic choice to stage the debate at Harvard?

As the Harvard character says in the film, the debate should be viewed more in the spirit of the future than the past, a quite precise suggestion spoken from within the myth, suggesting to the audience how to appreciate the beauty of the setting we see on screen.

Indeed, the spirit of the film tosses everything forward into the “always now” where the questions of freedom, justice, and equality still live.

Our correspondent asks us to place Denzel Washington’s choices as director in parallel with the choices of Anne Frank’s father as editor. Is it not true that racists can exploit the vulnerabilities of these men’s decisions?

It is historically true that racists have exploited the decisions of Washington and Frank. We know this is the case for “The Great Debaters” already, after only a week on the market. And yet, on this basis I am more prone to learn something about the weakness of racism than about the culpability of Washington or Frank.

If it is history you want, please go get it where history resides in the monuments, archives, and testimonials of human memory. And there you should put your history together slowly, patiently, critically. Thanks to “The Great Debaters” I think we can look forward to a decade or two of historical reconstruction revived.

In “The Parallax View,” Slavoj Zizek notices that the documentary form has a way of allowing us to keep a safer distance from life than does fiction. Why has there been so little fiction of the Holocaust he asks? Because it would be too real. In fiction what’s most important is that we enter into the heart of the matter. Somehow, he argues, paradoxically, ironically, documentary evidence offers a cooler surface.

On the screen of “The Great Debaters,” the thermostat has been turned up. What’s important in fiction is staying true to the temperature of the truth. And any use of artistic license must be measured according to this standard. As someone who has lived consciously in the afterglow of Tolson’s Wiley College, I’m thrilled that Washington did not allow any chill to settle upon that screen.

But if we must risk looking backward in history as a test of the Harvard setting, then why not ask another question. Why wasn’t the climactic debate at Harvard in the first place? Well, why not? Why do I have to use the history of Harvard to measure my art? Why can’t I use my art to measure the history of Harvard?

I am deeply gratified to have a reader who is a historian and who is passionate about what history means. But what are the moral and spiritual consequences of the fact that the histories of Harvard and Wiley did not so strongly cross paths until the history of film brought them together in 2007?

I am also indebted to our columnist from the “Redneck Left.” He thinks I shouldn’t use the word redneck to mean “racist” because there are self-identified “rednecks” who have quite gotten over all that racist crap.

On this point, in fact, “The Great Debaters” stands squarely behind my critic. We have the figure of two East Texas “rednecks” who play “boy” with a genius who suffers the accidental misfortune of being Black in their racist world order. Yet come midnight a new world order is in the making as those “rednecks” become fellow “sharecroppers” with Black farmers — a solidarity that is assaulted by a force to be reckoned with.

Then it’s back to the street in daylight again where the “redneck sharecropper” appears to stand once again on the side of the truly oppressive powers. When Farmer Junior says “you owe my Daddy some money,” he dropped a whole trunk of baggage that I won’t unpack right now.

Where does the “redneck” stand? Is he is the one still playing “boy” with Black genius? Or is he the one risking solidarity with fellow Black sharecroppers? The language of “The Great Debaters” captures both the ambiguity and the hope of what “redneck” means to me.

And while we’re on the subject of “white power”, there is a glorious unstated message in Tolson’s final appearance on screen. Anyone who says “all white folks were portrayed as bad in the film” wasn’t paying very close attention to the redemptions of whiteness that were offered, North and South, as the film carried the audience into the final credits.

So, especially with thanks to my critics, I’m rooting more than ever for this underdog film to take at least one Academy Award, and that’s for Best Director.