Faulty Foreclosures Blamed on Fla. Courts

Getting $6 million to clean up faulty foreclosures as quickly as possible is probably the worst thing that could have happened to Florida's court system. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the First Amendment Foundation and several press entities have joined forces in an effort to put a stop to the rampant "rocket docket" mentality that has arisen after state lawmakers allotted those funds.

The action against the court system comes on the heels of the announcement that from July 1 to Sept. 30, 65,830 foreclosure cases were cleared (hence the term "rocket docket").

According to a recent Palm Beach Postarticle, 25 percent of the cases were cleared for reasons such as a short sale or a deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure agreement. It also became apparent that several of the judges hired with the allotted money were using quickie summary judgments to clear cases. Such judgments are routinely made without a traditional trial when the facts in a case are irrefutable.

Such practices leave homeowners out in the cold, literally, and with no resolution in sight
This brings us back to the joint effort by the ACLU and others against the "rocket docket" judgments. (For a hilarious take on the sad situation, check out Matt Taibbi's latest story in Rolling Stone.) Letters to Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles P. Canady and Chief Judge Donald R. Moran of Florida's Fourth Judicial Court urged them to promptly ensure public access to foreclosure court proceedings, in order to avoid litigation.

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To which Canady replied: "I have received the letter and am deeply concerned about the allegations it makes. Today I am directing the Office of the State Courts Administrator to make recommendations concerning appropriate corrective actions."

Tom Ice of Ice Legal shared his insight on the term "rocket docket" with HousingWatch. "In our opinion, the term 'rocket docket' is derogatory and harmful to the reputation and integrity of the judicial system. The term should never be embraced by the courts. Courts are always required to resolve cases as efficiently as possible, so the term 'rocket docket' must connote something more than mere efficiency. It implies an exaltation of speed over justice."

Matt Weidner of the Matt Weidner law firm has an interesting blog where he addresses the "rocket docket" issue and follows pertinent articles dealing with it. He questions who lobbied to get them up and running so quickly and if the courts were given specific instruction "to go out there and grant those summary judgments."

As for who is policing the courts, HousingWatch posed that question to Tom Ice, who replied:

"To some extent, the court system is self-policing. Incorrect legal decisions by trial court judges can be reviewed by the appellate courts. This mechanism doesn't work as well in foreclosure cases because the expense of an appeal stretches the financial resources of the homeowner."

Ice went on to say that "the Judicial Qualifications Commission is the body that polices the judges. We recommend asking the commission whether it is taking a stand on 'rocket docket' judges or about the propriety of judges publicly expressing concern about the housing market."

Let's hope the actions by the unified organizations will prompt a stop to the rocket docket madness and prompt a reorganization of how the courts are doing business.

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