Business

Published — December 17, 2014 Updated — January 7, 2015 at 4:23 pm ET

Florida homeowners catch a break in courts

The state Supreme Court revisited foreclosure court procedures after a Center report

Introduction

Lawyers wait to sign in for foreclosure hearings at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach in July. Alison Fitzgerald/Center for Public Integrity

Florida homeowners may soon find a more friendly reception in the state’s courtrooms after a state Supreme Court panel found that some judicial practices designed to speed up the cases may be improper.

The Court’s Local Rules Advisory Committee said last week that a judge’s order in Palm Beach County that allows banks to defeat homeowners’ motions to fight foreclosures in court simply by ignoring them went beyond the judge’s authority. The committee referred the rule to the state Supreme Court for review.

At issue is an order by the chief judge in Palm Beach County, and an accompanying order from a foreclosure judge, that deems a motion in a foreclosure case abandoned, essentially expired, if it hasn’t been heard within 90 days. The effect is that homeowners who ask judges to dismiss their cases, or disallow evidence, will automatically lose if the bank trying to foreclose doesn’t respond to the motion. Other Florida counties have similar orders in place.

“What they’re saying is you don’t have to hear those motions, just deny them,” said Thomas Ice, a Florida lawyer who took his opposition to the orders to the Supreme Court’s committee as well as to two state appeals courts. “I’m going to wave my judicial wand and they are all gone.”

The Center for Public Integrity reported earlier this year that Florida’s legislature and Supreme Court have instructed judges across the state to clear what they say is a critical backlog of foreclosure cases from the court system. The state set up a parallel legal system in which judges hear only foreclosure cases — often more than 100 motions per day. The courtrooms operate under rules that differ from those that guide civil law in other types of cases.

Chief judges across the state issued orders on how to deal with foreclosure cases. Many counties set up separate courtrooms and hired retired judges to hear cases. The state Supreme Court tracks how many cases have been heard, how many have been cleared and issues monthly reports detailing the progress of each judicial circuit. The state set a goal of clearing 256,000 cases a year for three years.

Homeowners and defense lawyers said the result is a system in which judges regularly rule in favor of mortgage lenders, granting them leeway on rules of evidence and extensions when they don’t show up for trials and hearings — latitudes that aren’t typically granted to borrowers.

The judicial order to abandon motions was designed to prevent homeowners and banks from purposely delaying cases with endless motions. That particular rule, however, was an egregious overreach that would not be tolerated in legal cases outside of foreclosure, Ice said.

“If this is examined out in the light, I think the overall legal community will reject this hands down,” he said.

The decision by the local rules committee essentially said the judges’ orders had exceeded their authority, because administrative orders are reserved for issues related to running the court system and not to legal proceedings. Rules that affect courtroom procedures require greater review, including comments from local lawyers and a Supreme Court examination.

The administrative order is now before the Supreme Court and no hearing date has been set.

Two appeals courts declined a request by Ice and other lawyers to review the judicial orders. The appellate judges, however, said an “aggrieved party” has the right to have a motion heard even if it’s deemed abandoned.

The rules committee decision came days after foreclosure defense lawyers and consumer advocates met with the state’s newly appointed courts administrator, P.K. Jameson, to discuss problems with the state’s foreclosure courts. Courts administrators run the business of courts including budgets and assignments of judges but do not rule on legal issues.

“We made it clear that the foreclosure attorneys are seeing treatment that is different than the treatment that clients get in other types of actions,” said Alice Vickers, director of the Florida Alliance for Consumer Protection. “When they are having foreclosure cases heard, normal civil procedures seemingly don’t apply.”

She said Jameson asked “questions specifically related to judges ramming these cases through” but it was unclear whether the office had the authority to take action.

The group asked Jameson to review chief judges’ administrative orders, but Eric Maclure, the deputy state court administrator, said issues regarding such legal procedures are outside the purview of the his office. “We’re not planning at this point at the staff level a comprehensive review of the orders,” he said.

The lawyers also asked state officials to ensure that foreclosure judges are following federal regulations adopted last year to help people facing foreclosure keep their homes. The rules require banks to halt foreclosure proceedings if a person has applied for a loan modification.

Some judges in Florida have questioned whether they have to apply federal regulations in state courts.

Maclure said his office is planning, as a result of the meeting, to distribute to foreclosure judges throughout the state a one-page document explaining the new federal regulations. The court system held a training session last summer on the rules, which judges could attend for continuing education credit.

Wholesale changes to Florida’s broken foreclosure system won’t happen quickly, according to Lynn Drysdale of the Jacksonville Area Legal Services, who also participated in the meeting with state court officials.

“I wasn’t going into that meeting expecting there to be a huge change in the foreclosure process,” she said. “It’s a huge issue, and I don’t believe there’s an easy resolution.”

Still, she and the other attorneys are seeing incremental progress as the state responds to their concerns on several different fronts.

Read more in Business

Share this article

Join the conversation

Show Comments

6
Leave a Reply

avatar
6 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
6 Comment authors
install itunes on windows 7Bob FrankstonLinda GordonET69Jello Beyonce Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
sam fetters
Guest
sam fetters

What do AT&T, Verizon and Crown Castle International Corp have in common? The largest institutional shareholders of each includes firms like: Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street (the “Big Three”), Invesco, Fidelity (FMR), JP Morgan, Wellington Management, Geode, T Rowe Price, Bank of America, and other of the largest money-management and investment firms, whom operate collaboratively (even comprising the largest shareholders of each other), forming virtual monopolies amongst the largest “competing” corporations, in most every single industry, via large share holdings. (source = http://investors.morningstar.com/ownership/shareholders-major.html?t=CCI) These are the same firms whom also largely own the third largest telecom, T-Mobile. The own the largest… Read more »

Jello Beyonce
Guest
Jello Beyonce

I’ve a theory that the supposed “Trade Wars” and “sanctions” and political/military strife going on between the U.S., China, Russia, etc. are merely distractions, serving to divert attention away from the growing authoritarianism and Oligarchic control spreading across the globe. “Nationalism” is being used as a propagandist covert means of continued increasing Globalism. As this article states: “A Russian woman stood up to speak at one of these public meetings, and she said that when she lived in Russia, the government slam dunked her and she had no say,” King said. “Now she lives in the United States of America,… Read more »

ET69
Guest
ET69

Marx was right about capitalism . Capital gets more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. There is no way out of this greed. We need socialism!

Linda Gordon
Guest
Linda Gordon

5g is a kill grid. The depployment of this weapon is an act of terroism genocide and ecocide. The marketers need to be jailed as terrorists.

Bob Frankston
Guest

The real issue with 5G is that it’s an attempt to roll back the Internet and return to the telecom of the 1970s when the phone company controlled all.

install itunes on windows 7
Guest

I have read the post and it is really helpful as I have got to know about the 5G wireless cities which are accepting the technology and other cities which are rejecting it.