Bad: When a newspaper ridicules your CEO for wrongful foreclosures. Worse: When the foreclosure was initiated by another company. Maddening: When even top executives at the bank don't realize that—and blame your department.

That's the situation Lee Mitau, U.S. Bancorp's general counsel and an executive vice president, found himself in last month. After a Massachusetts court excoriated his company, along with Wells Fargo, for bungling documentation of foreclosures, the New York Post published photos of the banks' CEOs with dunce caps superimposed on their heads.

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