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.