Allegations of Official
Electronic Filing Blamed for Corrupting County
County's Records Lead to Headaches for Title Professionals
Title 6/23/2008 reprinted with permission
real estate professionals, particularly title examiners and abstractors,
have expressed concerns that they are woeful when checking information
maintained in the clerk's office in Franklin County. The problem lies in
how information is maintained in the clerk's computer system, which they
say is rife with errors ranging from misspelled names, misplaced commas
and first and last names often substituted for the other.
According to Robert Franco, the president of Source of Title
and a seasoned title professional, he has spoken with individuals who
work in Franklin County and the problem seems to stem from information
that is submitted electronically to the county office.
"With an electronic filing, the indexing information is transferred
from one computer system to the other," Franco said. "I don't think
there are any human eyes looking at the original document when it gets
entered into the index. It seems as though they have problems like the
last name getting indexed in the first-name field, and vice versa. That
can make an abstractor's job pretty tough. All an abstractor can do is
check every which way he can imagine. That can be very time consuming."
Many title professionals are worried that the mistakes in the clerk's
office will get pinned to them, and that they will take a hit on their
errors and omission's insurance policies. They also fear that if they
overlook a mis-indexed lien when conducting a search, they could expose
unsuspecting borrowers to liens.
A family in Muskingum County was recently affected in just such a
manner due to mis-indexed information in the county clerk's office. They
received foreclosure papers after the former owner's name had been
misspelled in the index and a search of the property failed to turn up
the lien prior to the property's sale.
John O'Grady, the clerk of court for Franklin County, has not
admitted to any wrongdoing, but according to an article in The
Columbus Dispatch, the errors that exist in his county's indices are
the result of poor information his office receives from the state. Yet,
this excuse does not provide title professionals with much consolation.
"Everyone who has to use the system is basically playing roulette,"
said Dan Hritz, an independent title examiner who works for
several prominent title companies. He said that he and others who have
expressed concern about mis-indexed information were told to simply
notify employees of the clerk's office when an error is discovered and
it will be corrected.
"By then it's generally already too late," Hritz added. "If there's a
judgment, someone is trying to collect. And, the property likely has
already been transferred."
"We're aware that it's a problem," said Ted Hart, in an
interview with the newspaper. Hart is a spokesman for the Attorney
General's office. "It's been around for quite some time."
Despite acknowledging that a problem exists, no efforts seem to be
underway to correct the problem, according to the title examiners who
work in the office and rely upon the information its records contain.
"It's a title examiner's nightmare," said Debbie Howard, a
title professional who often peruses the records and is forced to run
names in every imaginable way in order to avoid missing a lien or
exposing her clients to unforeseen risks.
"It is extremely important to me that the title examiners and the
general public are able to access the public record with accuracy and
confidence," O'Grady said when questioned about the alleged errors in
Franco stressed the important role abstractors must take when
reviewing any county's records and noted that mis-indexed information
does not remove the validity of liens.
"If a lien is not found because it's mis-indexed, it may still be a
valid lien for collection purposes," he said. "The recent story out of
Muskingum County is a perfect example of how a simple typo can have a
devastating impact on a homeowner." He added that title examiners need
to develop very good computer searching skills, and they need to check
several variations of the name, trying to anticipate how it might have
been entered incorrectly in the index.
"Still, if it was not even close to being correctly indexed, there is
little that can be done to find it," he said.
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