St. Petersburg Times

Disputed foreclosure ruling could bog down courts

By Susan Taylor Martin, Times Senior Correspondent
Posted: Feb 11, 2011 08:11 PM

Many homeowners in Pinellas and Pasco counties could get at least a temporary reprieve from foreclosure pending the outcome of a case now before a Florida appeals court.

At issue is whether Pinellas-Pasco judges dismissed numerous civil suits, including foreclosures, and whether plaintiffs should be required to refile those cases, further bogging down an already strapped court system.

Depending on what the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland decides, it could have “serious implications for the trial courts,” warned J. Thomas McGrady, Pinellas-Pasco’s chief judge.

The case, involving a Belleair Beach couple, also highlights problems with “mills” like the David J. Stern Law Firm that have let foreclosure cases languish for months without action.

Stern’s firm represented Citibank in 2009 when it began foreclosing on the waterfront home of Christopher and Diane Phillips.

That July, the Pinellas clerk of court informed Stern of its “intent to dismiss” because of the law firm’s failure to serve notice of foreclosure on others who might be living in the house or have a legal interest in it.

Stern didn’t respond, and the Phillips’ case went on a “master order dismissal calendar” with 29 other foreclosure cases, many of them also handled by Stern.

On Aug. 27, 2009, Circuit Judge George Jirotka “ordered and adjudged that the cases, as indicated on the attached listing, are hereby dismissed without prejudice” meaning they could be refiled.

Attorney Matthew Weidner, representing the Pinellas couple, contends that Jirotka’s order terminated all 30 foreclosure suits. Because Stern’s firm did not start a new suit against his clients, Weidner said, the judge should not have allowed it to file a motion for summary judgment of foreclosure last year.

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