Effort to cut courts out of foreclosure process could be costly to all Floridians

On its face, it certainly sounds attractive: Speed up Florida’s foreclosure process to help the state move past the crisis to a healthier economy. But as Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos echo support for moving at least some foreclosures out of the court system to speed up the process, they should not erode borrowers’ rights or encourage banks to cut even more corners. And they will have to address the fiscal impact on the courts, which rely heavily on foreclosure fees to keep the doors open.

This is not a new idea. In 2010, the Florida Bankers Association tried to get the law changed to give lenders the ability to foreclose without the courts. The justification is speed. Florida’s foreclosure proceedings take an average of 638 days, one of the slowest rates in the nation, while some of the nearly 30 states that have nonjudicial foreclosures can take 400 or fewer days on average. Certainly it would benefit the state’s struggling neighborhoods and overall economy to address Florida’s glut of foreclosures.

But if blame is to be apportioned for delays, Florida’s courts should rank well behind banks and mortgage servicers. While the state courts brought in extra senior judges to handle the flood of foreclosure filings, lenders were mired in a “robo-signing” scandal and other paperwork problems that led to a massive slowdown. Banks tried to foreclose without proof of ownership and presented sworn documents by people with no idea what they were attesting to. The reaction to all this bungling should not be to remove judicial oversight — a procedure that holds banks and servicers to account.

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