Florida’s Foreclosure Machine – Florida’s Foreclosure Court is Designed to Put Politics Ahead of Justice
If you are unable or unwilling to file a bankruptcy, the only way to stop a foreclosure is to fight the foreclosure in state court. When it comes to saving homeownership in Florida, the middle class is on its own. Any plan implemented by President Obama and Congress has proven woefully inadequate, and it’s no surprise Wall Street and the mortgage companies don’t want to help. However, the Florida Legislature, in partnership with Florida State Court Judges has devised a plan to actually make it easier for plaintiffs to steal your home.
Florida’s State Court System is currently bogged down in foreclosures. Foreclosure actions comprise well over 50% of all pleadings statewide. In Jacksonville, for instance, just under 70% of all circuit civil pleadings are filed in foreclosure cases. While foreclosure cases are growing (and probably will not peak until the mid-2011), all other types of circuit civil cases are down about 20% over previous years (after all, people are too poor to get divorced).
The reason foreclosures bog down the system is because they are complicated and because there are strict legal requirements that a mortgage company must meet in order to take someone’s home, even when the homeowner has already walked away from the house. Because of notoriously poor record keeping by these plaintiffs over the last decade or so, meeting these legal requirements has become too difficult, if not impossible when homeowners fight their foreclosure. Granted, only a small fraction of Florida foreclosures are contested by the defendants, but that small percentage can cause big problems for a bureaucracy.
The law firms representing these plaintiffs (known as “foreclosure mills”) routinely resort to creating false documentation to “satisfy” the legal requirements. Florida’s Attorney General, Bill McCollum, recently launched a fraud investigation of the four largest Florida foreclosure mills because of piles of evidence presented to the AG by a dozen or so qualified Florida foreclosure defense attorneys. Rumor has it that the AG will be adding more foreclosure mills as the investigation widens.
Ironically, this investigation is exactly what Circuit Court Judges and the Florida Legislature DON’T want. This public scrutiny of evidence in foreclosure cases puts pressure on judges to actually hold the plaintiffs’ feet to the fire and demand assurance that their documentation isn’t fake. Such strict adherence to the law adds to the gridlock on Florida dockets.
So, Florida’s Legislature, our judges and the same foreclosure mills currently under investigation hatched a $9M plan called Foreclosure Court with the expressed intention of reducing the foreclosure backlog by 62% over the next year (it’s right there in FY 2010-11 – Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Funding Plan)!
The Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Plan is a collision of justice and politics, and the middle class loses. The ONLY way to reduce the foreclosure backlog is to ram cases through the system, and that’s the essence of this simple plan: Divert every single foreclosure into a special division run by retired circuit court judges who have zero accountability to the citizens of Florida because they don’t face re-election. The “rocket docket” is fast becoming the norm in the State of Florida.
The result is a portrait of government waste. Retired senior judges with pensions close to 100% of their previous six-figure salary are getting paid up to $600 per day to “reduce the backlog” in a judicial system that is otherwise seeing fewer cases. Circuit Civil judges, who were not asking for help, are now working half as much since their foreclosure cases have been taken away.
The media has an opportunity here to expose the waste merely be reviewing the dockets of all Circuit Civil judges in rocket docket counties. If I were an elected judge earning almost $150,000, I would be worried that my constituents think I sit around half the day doing nothing.
What is the goal for the disposition of backlog cases?
Kris Slayden reported that the Executive Committee had proposed a goal of disposing 70% of backlogged cases. Following a brief discussion between staff and the members, it was determined that the Legislature appropriated only 62% of the funds requested in the FY 2010‐11 Legislative Budget Request. Based upon this amount, Judge Roundtree proposed that the goal be consistent with the amount of monies approved by the Legislature. Walt Smith seconded and the motion passed without objection.