Florida foreclosure crisis hits courts hard too, not just homeowners, real estate agents and banks

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s foreclosure crisis has affected more than homeowners, real estate agents and banks. It has put the courts in a bind, and this year forced state legislators to reverse the way the third branch of government is funded, just three years after having changed it in 2009.

While changing how the court system gets its money, legislators spared the courts from budget cuts. The $446 million in the 2012-13 budget for all of the state’s judges and their assistants, including circuit, county and appellate courts as well as the Supreme Court, is up slightly from the $437 million allocated in the previous year’s budget.

The courts’ budget does not cover state attorneys and public defenders, who received the same amount as last year: $384 million for the state attorneys, $184 million for the public defenders and $13 million for appellate public defenders.

In 2009, legislators revamped the way the courts were budgeted, based on recommendations from the courts. The courts asked to be taken out of the state’s general revenue fund, the great bulk of which the state collects through sales taxes and other fees. Instead, they sought to cover their budget mostly through a trust fund of the money the courts collect, such as filing fees for cases, including mortgage foreclosures.

Under that system, legislators created a tiered foreclosure filing fee schedule, with foreclosure filing fees set at $395 for properties valued at $50,000 or less; $900 for those between $50,000 and $250,000; and $1,900 for properties valued at $250,000 or more.

Those fees covered 90 percent of the state courts’ spending. The remaining fraction of the courts’ budget came from the state’s general revenue fund .

By the end of 2009, foreclosures generated so much money that the courts had a $100 million cash reserve. But the volatility in foreclosure cases, which dropped precipitously in 2010 and 2011, caused judges to plead for more money and led legislators to ask the courts and clerks to come up with a way to make their revenue more stable.

Rest from the Palm Beach Post here…