Letters to the Editor

Issue July 2003

'We are up to the challenge'

I read your outrageous remarks in the "President's View" column of the Lawyers Journal (June 2003). It's shameful that you had the audacity to write such garbage and then admit that it has been over 20 years since you set foot in a registry. Sir, for your information, much has happened since your last visit. Do you really believe that we enjoy having long lines just to irritate people? That we enjoy working with a rock-bottom budget and a major shortage of personnel?

Do you think that my registry can go from recording 185,000 documents a year with a staff of 90 to now recording 500,000 documents a year with a staff of 70?

A short time ago, we had people standing in line outside our registry at 5:30 in the morning. To avoid long lines for multiple recordings, we instituted a numbering system, and only recently we had 11 different colors, 100 numbers to each color and the holder of each number could record five different transactions at one sitting. Simple math will tell you that each day when my employees sat at their desks they knew that we started the day 5,500 documents behind. If one would ask when they could expect to have their number called and their documents recorded, the answer would be several days. Can we also talk about the thousands of pieces of mail that we receive each week that must be opened, prepared and recorded. Try that for pressure, Mr. Vrabel.

For your information, the Middlesex South Registry is the largest in the state and one of the top 10 in the country. We were the first registry in the entire country to install imaging. In the 1990s, I was asked to speak at several seminars throughout the country on the subject of the importance of imaging in the workplace. One year, your American Bar Association asked me to speak at their national meeting in Anaheim, Calif. I also gave 120 tours of our recording system to groups from all over the country and the world.

For your information, we have been asking for support for years from the conveyance associations, title companies, etc. for cover sheets on all documents to take advantage of such technology as Optical Character Reading devices for recording; allowing the boilerplate of the mortgage to be stored in our computers rather than recording it over and over again; standardization of the size and color of all documents; and adequate space at the top and sides for registry information. Above all, please send, or bring, your documents in with the proper information and amount of money. Ten percent of all documents received by our registry must be returned for more information or the property fee. I would suggest that you think about that fact when you say, "no attorney wants to charge a client for standing in line."

Despite your comments, Mr. Vrabel, this real estate rush will pass, I will be caught up and the lines will be down to one color. Thanks to Secretary of State Bill Galvin, and the House and Senate, our new computer system will be installed. But the books, well, my first book is dated 1641. It may be a little tired, but not musty as you claim. It has lots of character and is loaded with wonderful history. What you call our dungeon is really the basement, and if it is good enough for the court system and for the judge that sits there in Court Room 5, then who am I to complain?

Yes, Mr. Vrabel, we are up to the challenge, but are you up to being patient and understanding when attempting to find a parking space and standing in line to record on document once every 20 years? Or is that too much to ask?
Eugene C. Brune
Register of Deeds
South Middlesex County

Instead of complaining, look to what others have done

I have occasion to visit most of the registries in eastern Massachusetts. I certainly have the same feelings expressed by Mr. Vrabel ("The mess in our registries," June 2003 Lawyers Journal), but I have a different point of view.

While Middlesex South District and, to some lesser extent, Suffolk have serious problems, I rather look at what others have done about the problems. I draw your attention to the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds.

Plymouth has suffered from the same growth, with new books over the last 20 years exceeding all the books from the previous 200 years.

My last several visits to Plymouth have been to the Rockland satellite. With the same budget problems and the same state government, the Plymouth Registry opened a satellite office in Rockland. In addition to the travel time saved on a trip from Boston, this satellite is clean, modern, well staffed and efficiently run. Sure they could use more space for closing tables, but here is a neat, modern solution to a problem.

The computers at Plymouth allow you to view and print documents without the books. This saves time and money, in that less staff is required to shelve the books. Plymouth charges $1 for the computer copies at the satellite, which is a small price to pay for the savings over driving to Plymouth.

Maybe the people that run Plymouth should be brought to Middlesex to teach them a few lessons.

Middlesex South District is so bad that I have refused to accept any closing from any clients at bank's counsel. Title examiners are rightly charging at least a 25 percent premium for title abstracts, and risks of making an error are up due to the problems.

Suffolk County was lucky to move to a new building a short time ago. There was insufficient shelf space when built and the books have quickly outgrown the space. The shelves used to view books are smaller than the books and slide in when viewing books, allowing the books to fall. Someone is going to get hurt. The damage to the books is ongoing. The computers at Suffolk are all but useless. The paper indexes are in bad condition. There is a section of the alphabet that was never printed in the 2000 index.

The new Register of Deeds has begun to tackle the year backlog in returning instruments after recording. Until the computer system works, there is no hope for improvement.

The solutions are not that hard to find. Stop in to the Rockland satellite and take a look around. Enjoy the fast, friendly service.
Stuart T. Schrier

Thanks for calling for accountability

My thanks to President Vrabel for his call for change in the administration of our registries of deeds. In my 19 years in the title examination business, I have never heard someone proclaim so effectively that, like the emperor with no clothes, some registers of deeds have no more excuses for their administrative shortcomings. Their response to every criticism has been - "too little money, too few people, too many documents, too little time..." Throw in "we know how hard their job is and they're really trying," and you have the stock response from the leaders of the conveyancing bar. You can imagine how this infuriates those of us who work with the records and the county employees every day, and why your opinion piece is being heralded by my colleagues.

Yes, registry employees are overmatched by the volume of work. But much of that mismatch comes from an utter lack of training. You don't know how many times I have presented documents for registration in Middlesex South and have been told by the clerk, "I don't understand this - you have to go to Boston to have it approved (by a Land Court Examiner)." I return with the documents stamped, and then the clerk questions the validity of "Approved for Registration!" Most registry employees are frustrated and demoralized, and for some this is excuse enough for a horrible attitude toward their jobs and toward the public.

The present boom in real estate transactions has been a decade coming. There was no anticipation of the flood of documents. Consequently, the catch-up effort is replete with data-entry errors, scanning errors and hundreds of lost pages (yes - lost, somewhere in the building, are scores of documents). The human traffic in some registries is a nightmare. The same document is handled seven or eight times on its way to being fully recorded; has no one ever heard of work-flow analysis?

There is no doubt that the mess, as you rightly call it, has diminished the quality of title examination in the present market. There is no way that our clients can pass along the costs of all these blunders and inefficiencies. So we must absorb them on our end, and that is why you see so few career examiners these days, and so many minimally trained, minimally waged 20-somethings serving as little more than walking clipboards. Nine out of 10 people who call themselves title examiners today don't know what an abstract of a deed looks like, let alone the elements that go into one.

Please, stay with this issue. Keep calling for accountability and change. It shouldn't take the metaphorical "dead body on the floor" - in this case, another total breakdown of registry functioning (like the year-ends of both 2001 and 2002) before the conveyancing bar realizes it can't skirt the problem forever. Please consider a legislative measure to define the voluminous provisions a mortgage drafted for the secondary financing market in a few words or paragraphs. That alone would lighten by half the paper flow that is choking the system. Then, perhaps, there would be the breathing room to address the long-standing problems.
A. Michael Ruderman
President, Veritas Information Services