David and Crystal Holm of Holt, Mo., fought a foreclosure sale of their $142,000 home for years.CreditCreditKile Brewer for The New York Times

By Gretchen Morgenson

Big banks hold great sway in Washington these days, far more than troubled homeowners do. But outside the Beltway, many people remain caught in the maw of the financial giants, which is why it is heartening when some judges step into the fray.

Consider two opinions involving Wells Fargo, a bank that enjoys a somewhat better reputation than many of its peers. On Monday, a judge in a state court in Missouri ordered Wells to pay over $3 million in punitive damages and other costs for abusing a borrower. Then, on Thursday, a judge in Federal Bankruptcy Court in suburban New York ruled on behalf of another borrower, concluding that there was substantial evidence Wells Fargo forged documents when it foreclosed on a property.

It was not a good week on the litigation front for Wells Fargo.

The award in Missouri went to David and Crystal Holm of Holt, Mo., a town northeast of Kansas City with a population of 450. For the last six and a half years, the Holms have battled Wells Fargo over a foreclosure sale of their $142,000 property. As they fought against what they considered a wrongful taking of their property, they remained in the home, which they built themselves in 1997 and where they were married.

According to court filings, the Holms fell behind on their mortgage in spring 2008 after a storm damaged the property. They quickly put together the roughly $10,000 needed to bring the loan current, and Wells agreed to reinstate the mortgage one day before a scheduled foreclosure sale.

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