Special Request from the ACLU American Civil Liberties Union.
As part of our investigation into reported constitutional deficiencies in Florida’s rocket docket foreclosure courts, the ACLU today filed open records requests with all twenty of Florida’s circuit courts, as well as with the Office of State Courts Administration. Our press release is available here. While we are hopeful that the requests will generate some concrete information, we are certain that those of you who have been in these courtrooms, experiencing these proceedings, are an even more important resource for us to draw upon as we think through our strategy for responding.
To that end, we urge you to reach out to us and let us know which specific procedural deficiencies you see, whether those are about judges failing to abide by the Florida rules of civil procedure (for example, failing to require that complaints be verified or that supporting documents be attached to affidavits), difficulties with docketing and notice, court reporters prevented from transcribing proceedings, courtrooms closed to the public, or other violations. We are particularly interested in Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade Counties and eager to see transcripts or other court papers documenting the deficiencies you report.
Please forward any relevant information to firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call: 212.549.2588. And thank you for all the work that you do.
ACLU Racial Justice Program
ACLU Seeks Public Records to Determine Constitutionality of Foreclosure Proceedings in Florida
Lack Of Due Process Protections Would Disproportionately Impact Homeowners Of Color
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 19, 2010
CONTACTS: Will Matthews, ACLU, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; email@example.com; or Brandon Hensler, ACLU of Florida, (786) 363-2722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW YORK and MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida today filed public records requests with judicial officials in Florida to determine whether homeowners are having their constitutional rights violated during foreclosure proceedings and being unlawfully removed from their homes.
In Florida, where almost half a million foreclosure cases are pending, the state legislature recently spent over $9 million to create special foreclosure courts, staffed by retired judges, with the intent of speeding through the state’s backlog of such cases. But recent media reports in Florida and around the country, which reveal rampant error and fraud in the foreclosure process, have shown that courts should take particular care with foreclosure cases. Instead, in the rush to push foreclosure cases through the courts, Florida may be taking shortcuts and, in the process, forsaking constitutionally-required due process protections.
“It is disturbing that Florida may be implementing less exacting due process protections at a time when widespread flaws in the foreclosure system illustrate the need for increased vigilance and strict procedural safeguards,” said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “These records requests aim to shed light on whether recent changes to Florida’s handling of foreclosure proceedings are violating the due process rights of homeowners.”
Filed with the Office of the State Court Administrator and the chief judges of all 20 of Florida’s circuit courts, the requests seek access to, among other things, all documents related to special court systems created to dispose of foreclosure cases and the rules and procedures in place that govern those systems.
Government data show that the foreclosure crisis across the country has disproportionately impacted communities of color. According to a recent report by the Center for Responsible Lending, nearly 8 percent of both African Americans and Latinos have lost their homes to foreclosures, as compared to 4.5 percent of whites. Additionally, the indirect losses in wealth that result from foreclosures as a result of depreciation to nearby properties will also disproportionately impact communities of color. The Center for Responsible Lending report estimates that between 2009 and 2012, the African American and Latino communities will be drained of $194 and $177 billion, respectively, in these indirect “spillover” losses alone.
“Communities of color in Florida and across the country are hit hardest if courts disregard the kinds of protections that are meant to uphold people’s basic constitutional rights,” said Muslima Lewis, Senior Staff Attorney and Director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Florida. “Getting the documents we are requesting will be an important first step toward exposing and addressing any systemic injustices that may exist in the Florida foreclosure court systems.”