Defense motions that disappear after 60 days, unelected judges meant to rule on a quarter of a million cases a year, original documents gone missing — these are the realities facing families caught in a year-old initiative intended to accelerate Florida's foreclosure process. As Florida tries to clear its courts of hundreds of thousands of pending foreclosure cases, a lingering reminder of the 2008 financial meltdown, homeowners trying to save their houses feel their rights come second in a state-sponsored, breathless rush to foreclose.
Senior Finance Reporter Alison Fitzgerald spent months investigating the underlying causes of Florida's foreclosure frenzy, and we wanted to know more about the story behind that effort.
Your investigation found a foreclosure system riddled with red flags — what in your mind is the most egregious outcome of Florida’s foreclosure initiative?
What I saw is that the initiative tilts the legal system in favor of banks. For that small fraction of homeowners who are defending their homes, they are now fighting not only banks, but also the state. When a court or judge tries to move a case forward, they are by default working on behalf of the bank which brought the case. And they are giving the banks leeway in terms of evidence they would never give to a homeowner.
I reviewed dozens of trial transcripts, talked to more lawyers than I can count and at least a half dozen homeowners fighting foreclosure and then I went down there to see for myself. It all pointed to this conclusion.
I was actually a bit skeptical about what I was hearing from the defense lawyers about how judges were pushing cases through the system. However, after spending two days sitting in different foreclosure courtrooms in two different counties, I was convinced. I saw judge after judge ruling on case after case with little more than a glance at the docket. What stunned me was how often the judges — each one I watched — would say no when a lender and homeowner would together ask for a delay of a foreclosure trial or home sale because they wanted to work out a deal. I still don't understand why a judge would rule against such a request, but it happened in every courtroom I visited.