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Report: Courts May Give Florida Homeowners a Break

At the close of last summer, The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit journalism organization, published a feature detailing how Florida homeowners were being steamrolled by a legislative initiative intended to plow through the back log. The kicker was the program was funded by a federal mortgage fraud settlement that was secured specifically to help disenfranchised borrowers.

Even in cases where banks and borrowers were requesting more time to prepare their cases, judges were having none of it. Many foreclosure defense lawyers were speaking out, arguing the state’s civil court system had been totally compromised in the interest of getting through these cases quickly.

Now, following this expose and several others, it seems state courts may be ready to change course. The Florida Supreme Court’s Local Rules Advisory Committee ruled in December that an order by a judge in Palm Beach County that essentially allowed banks to overcome homeowner efforts to fight foreclosures by simply ignoring their motions was a measure that proved beyond the scope of that judge’s authority.

As our Miami foreclosure defense lawyers understand it, the order had said that if a foreclosure motion isn’t heard within 90 days, it is considered “abandoned” or expired. What this did was give banks an awful lot of power in the situation. Here’s why: Normally, a homeowner could file a motion seeking for dismissal of the case or to suppress certain evidence, and the bank would be required to give a response and then the court would timely set a hearing. But with this new order, all a bank had to do was simply ignore the motion and not respond to it. Without that procedural step, no hearing would be set and the case would move forward – totally ignoring the homeowner motion.

The committee reviewing the matter found this went outside the scope of the judge’s authority. It’s been forwarded to the Florida Supreme Court for further consideration, and the state high court will have the final say on the matter.

The state legislature wants the backlog of foreclosures gone, and it even went so far as to set up a separate system for judges solely to hear foreclosure cases. The problem is the civil rules of procedure have been greatly ignored within this court, and that sets the stage for a violation of homeowner rights. The states wants to clear nearly 260,000 foreclosure cases within three years.

In some courtrooms, these judges are hearing up to 100 motions every day. Assuming these judges are working an 8-hour day with no breaks, that’s 12.5 motions and hour, or one motion every five minutes. It’s impossible to mete out justice in that fashion, particularly when we’re talking about complex legal issues and the future of Florida families.

The order out of Palm Beach County was designed to make it so that homeowners and banks wouldn’t purposely be able to delay their case by filing motion after motion after motion. This is a valid goal, the advisory committee pointed out, but the way it was addressed simply went too far.

That decision came just days after a number of consumer advocates and foreclosure defense attorneys met with the new courts administrator to talk about issues with the state’s foreclosure court – in particular the fact that homeowners are receiving disparate treatment in comparison to the banks in these matters.

While the courts continue to wrangle with these issues, the bottom line is when you step into court, your best protection is an experienced legal team at your side.

If you’re battling debt collection in Miami or the surrounding areas contact Jacobs Legal for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights.

Call (305) 358-7991. Also, don’t miss Miami Foreclosure Attorney Bruce Jacobs on 880AM/the Biz, every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on “Debt Warriors with Bruce Jacobs,” discussing foreclosure topics that matter to YOU.

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