Has anyone ever heard of due process in Florida?
The Washington Post reported that despite all the mind blowing revelations of the last few weeks, and despite the fact that the big banks themselves admit that their litigation paperwork is sufficiently screwed up that they have voluntarily put a moratorium on foreclosures, despite criminal investigations in all 50 states of allegations of fraud on the courts; judges in Florida are still spending only SECONDS per case on uncontested cases and ignoring arguments made in contested cases regarding broken chains of title.
FORT LAUDERDALE – In a cramped, makeshift courtroom, Broward County Judge Victor Tobin was signing off on uncontested foreclosure cases as fast as a clerk could keep them coming, only a few seconds per file.
"Batter up," he said as he finished one stack and eyed the next. With scores of cases remaining on the day’s "rocket docket" earlier this week and tens of thousands more awaiting judgment in this courthouse, there was little time to pause.
He’s not reading those case files any more than the robo signers read the mortgage files.
Down the hall, attorneys for the small minority of homeowners contesting seizures pleaded their cases in courtrooms 518 and 519. The attorneys cited faulty notarizations, questionable signatures, missing assignments on the part of lenders trying to foreclose. They argued that the sloppy paperwork had resulted in a broken chain of title, that lenders didn’t have legal standing to seize homes.
Allegations of wrongdoing in Broward Country and elsewhere continued to mount this week. A lawyer from Deerfield Beach unveiled depositions that he said showed that financial firms and mortgage servicers hired people with no knowledge of the mortgage process and installed them as "foreclosure experts" to "robo-sign" thousands of filings, paying little attention to the accuracy of the documents and at times forging signatures, backdating documents and misusing notary stamps.
The judges in 518 and 519, who had come out of retirement to hear foreclosure cases and help clear the backlog, listened to the arguments politely. They had heard these pleas before. But without definitive evidence of fraud, the judges told the attorneys, the foreclosure would go forward.
If we are talking about criminal investigations into robo signing at document mills by former burger flippers who might not have the savvy to understand the grave consequences of their actions, how can we ignore the conduct of judges who actually do know better?
In fairness, some judges in Florida have finally gotten a clue.
On the other side of the state, in a Sarasota County courtroom, another judge on a recent day was taking a dramatically different tack. Impatient with attorneys for lenders trying to seize hundreds of homes, fed up with their sloppy paperwork and errant practices, Judge Harry Rapkin dismissed 61 foreclosure cases in that single day – a quarter of those awaiting his approval. While the plaintiffs could re-file, it would mean hefty fees and significant delay.
And that’s the way is should work. Judges can still unclog the pipeline, simply by dismissing the faulty cases. Not only will it get rid of the current glut of fraudulent filings, and prevent horrible miscarriages of justice, it will discourage future unfounded filings preventing a new glut and allowing for the orderly processing of those very few legitimate cases that may be out there.
I’ve heard a figure of 80 percent bandied about as an estimate of how many underwater mortgages may be effected by the chain of title problems resulting from securitization and electronic transfer. If this percentage is true, those cases cannot and should not go forward unless or until some solution to their fundamental standing problems is found. The remaining 20% of foreclosure cases could go forward with plaintiffs proving their clear chain of title full complete and accurate paperwork. Those houses could be resold without the kind cloud over title that threatens to keep the housing market frozen for the foreseeable future.
The stable transfer of clear title will actually begin the healing process of the housing market, but as long as these judges continue to deny due process the public will have no confidence in the clear title of even the most perfect and just foreclosure. The robo judges are not helping anyone, even the foreclosure plaintiffs. They are making the housing crisis worse by casting doubt over the title of even the most legitimate plain vanilla foreclosure.
And they are violating their oath of office.