Specialized Foreclosure Courts Spring-Up in Florida
Uncertainty answering that question is plaguing an innovative specialized court-system in Florida designed to speed-up the foreclosure process. The recently tallied second quarter found Florida leading the nation in the proportion of delinquent or foreclosed mortgages: 20.13%.
This high mortgage failure rate is nurtured by the poor economy which has driven home values so far down, nearly half of all Floridian home-owners now owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. To combat this problem, the Florida legislature recently allocated ten million dollars to implement a high-speed "foreclosure only" court system.
Florida's Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge, Belvin Perry, Jr, reported last month in the Florida Bar News that the foreclosure court disposed of 1,319 cases in July alone. While impressive, this case-completion rate will not make a dent in the nearly half million homes awaiting the requisite repossession adjudication under Florida law.
And speed does not always equate with justice. Some attorneys that represent borrowers in the Jacksonville area complain that the retired judges enlisted to process the foreclosure "rocket docket" do not spend adequate time reviewing often-complex files, and the homeowners' motions contained therein. Another common complaint is that as these judges slash through the backlog, they tend to favor lenders over borrowers.
In some cases, judges have awarded foreclosure rights to plaintiffs who have not proved ownership of the subject property; a threshold issue. In other cases, the retired visiting judge on a particular date is simply not adequately advised in the premises of the multitude of cases on the docket that day.
Another problem facing the court is the large number of cases that feature sketchy documentation presented by a lender to prove ownership. Added to this are the multiple transfers characterizing many mortgage transactions, each draped with a bewildering assortment of documentation
These problem are so bad, the Florida Attorney General recently announced an investigation of the three largest law firms in the state that represent foreclosing lenders. Alleging that the firms are acting as foreclosure mills, the Florida AG has accused instances of document fabrication and post-dating. One of the targeted firms, Law Offices of David J. Stern, filed more than 70,000 foreclosures last year.
Another practice that distorts the identity of home-ownership in foreclosure court is the use of bank affidavits when a particular document can no longer be located or produced for the court. Borrowers' attorneys assert this common practice is improper when the bank official has a stake in the outcome of the case.
For many of the residents of these homes, foreclosure is just one stop on the way to bankrutpcy. These folks would probably not see the humor in the name of Attorney Stern's new $20 million dollar yacht: Miss Understood.
March 2011 Update: Attorney David Stern announces that his law firm was suspending foreclosure operations, effectively immediately. The firm has apparently been losing some of its flagship clients since the Florida AG's investigation grinds on; also, going public has not worked-out very well for anyone except Stern.