Are Tampa/St. Pete Judges a Different Breed?
Throughout the two-plus years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve encountered many homeowners who have expressed rampant frustration with the legal system in Florida. “The judge won’t listen to my arguments.” “The judge is a robo-judge and is only interested in clearing his/her docket.” Even when I’ve articulated some bona-fide defenses to foreclosure, and illustrated how such defenses have worked in some of my cases, some such homeowners have responded with words to the effect of:
Yeah, but that’s in Tampa/St. Pete.
Judges where I live, in my part of Florida, don’t rule that way.
For example, in response to my post explaining how it’s possible for homeowners to obtain a summary judgment in their favor, one homeowner wrote, and I quote:
I am fighting my foreclosure in the 18th Circuit, Seminole County, and my judge like most judges in Seminole County is not the least bit interested in the semantics of an intelligent legal defense. This is a robo foreclosure county. Judges here are interested in clearing their docket, spending approximately three minutes in a hearing and nothing else. Due process is right out the window.
I understand these sorts of frustrations, I do. However, I can’t help but wonder … is there something inherently different about the judges in the Tampa/St. Pete area than the judges in other parts of Florida, as this homeowner seems to believe? Are the judges in the Tampa/St. Pete area somehow more inclined to rule in favor of homeowners than other judges in other parts of the state? Or have foreclosure defense attorneys such as myself worked so tirelessly on behalf of homeowners that we’ve convinced these judges that the law often requires them to rule in favor of homeowners?
I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that judges in the Orlando area, South Florida, or anywhere else in Florida are just inherently anti-homeowner. I refuse to believe there’s anything inherently different about the judges in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, or Ft. Myers than the judges in St. Petersburg, Dade City, or Tampa. They’re all judges. They’re all equally qualified to hold the position. Does it seem like the judges in the Tampa/St. Pete area tend to rule more favorably for homeowners? Sometimes, perhaps. But why is that? Is it really because these judges are somehow a different breed?
I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. I firmly believe the judges in my area have issued some favorable rulings for homeowners because the Tampa/St. Pete area is filled with foreclosure defense lawyers, such as myself, who have steadfastly and consistently advocated for homeowners. I believe that by repeatedly presenting well-taken arguments, with case law, we have created these favorable rulings. I also believe that if this happened more often, in other parts of the state, that other judges in Florida would do the same thing.
For example, I had a hearing today in Seminole County (the very county that the homeowner, above, was complaining about) before Judge Marlene Alva. The bank was asking that a receiver be appointed so as to enable the bank to collect rents during the pendency of the lawsuit. Frankly, this was the sort of thing that a “robo-judge” (to use that homeowner’s term) could have easily granted, almost as a formality, with a simple explanation. (“Mortgage is in default, bank should collect rents while the case is pending.”). That wouldn’t have been correct, but I could have seen it happen. However, when the bank’s lawyer tried to make the argument for a receiver without evidence (i.e. without a live witness to testify), Judge Alva sustained my objections and denied the motion. It didn’t matter that the mortgage was in default and my client was collecting rents – the bank didn’t prove its entitlement to a receiver, so the judge denied the motion.
What’s my point? Obviously, I have more hearings in the Tampa/St. Pete area than I do in Seminole County. However, I don’t think there is anything inherently different about the judges in this area. I think all judges will listen to bona-fide, well-taken arguments supported by case law, especially if lawyers develop a reputation for always making such arguments.
For instance, is it a coincidence that Matt Weidner (to name just one other) and I work in St. Pete and many plaintiffs’ lawyers consider St. Pete the most defense-friendly place in Florida? Or is it that we’ve consistently shown these judges why the law requires rulings in favor of homeowners, and they’ve responded accordingly? Call me biased, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Another example … I recently had a hearing in Miami, which is probably as “bank-friendly” as it gets in Florida. I cited Feltus and the judge had never heard of the Feltus case previously, so he stopped the hearing to read it. Now … if the judge hadn’t been following the principle of law set forth in Feltus (prior to my hearing), then whose fault is that, exactly? Yes, the judges in the Tampa/St. Pete area are typically aware of Feltus and typically follow it, but that’s because lawyers such as myself routinely cite it in hearings. If none of the lawyers before that Miami judge had ever cited Feltus in a hearing, then how can anyone expect that judge to follow that principle of law? In my view, it’s up to us to present the arguments, with case law, so as to make the judges understand the bona-fide defenses to foreclosure.
So for anyone who laments that they don’t reside in the Tampa/St Pete area … don’t give up. Personally, I refuse to accept that judges in other parts of Florida are somehow different, or less inclined to rule for homeowners. In my view, if these judges aren’t ruling in homeowners’ favor more often, then that’s because homeowners and their attorneys aren’t doing a good enough job presenting viable defenses, with case law. So don’t give up, folks. Keep hammering away. Keep presenting your arguments. Keep bringing case law. And, I hate to say it, but keep hiring competent counsel, as good attorneys know what arguments to present and when to present them, maximizing the chances that the judge will do what you want him/her to do.