Archive for April 10th, 2011

Leaving a Legacy

A cordial response to my last post, below, prompted this final email (presumably) to Ms. Downs …

Ms. Downs,

Thanks for your response.  I am glad you sense my passion on this issue.  I’ve been trying to explain the source of that passion, and I fear I’ve left off a critical point (and, with this, I’ll try to leave you alone).  

I sense that many people who work in the legal system (judges, judicial assistants, clerks, etc.), cannot wait to get back to “normal” times, before the foreclosure crisis dominated their workloads.  That’s understandable.  After all, I’m sure it hasn’t been fun for them to have their workloads doubled or tripled for the same pay. 

However, for many Floridians, a foreclosure lawsuit on their homestead is the only experience they will ever have with the Florida judicial system.  As I told the Florida Supreme Court in a recent letter, the foreclosure crisis Florida is experiencing, right now, is what the average Floridian will remember about the legal system in 20 years. 

If this is what Floridians will remember about our system of justice, then, respectfully, we should all be mortified. 

Let’s put it this way.  

I’m 34 years old.  In 20 years, I want everyone I encountered during the foreclosure crisis to remember that I battled the banking industry (and, on occasion, judges) to make the legal system as fair and affordable for homeowners as possible.  That doesn’t mean my clients will always win (on the contrary, as foreclosure defendants, many will lose), but I want my clients to always feel like they at least got a fair shake in court.  On a personal level, I want people to remember that I was willing to go into a gun-fight, day after day, with a bag of rocks (as, often, that’s what foreclosure defense feels like – going into a gunfight with a bag of rocks), and I did so as inexpensively as possible.  Mostly, though, I want everyone to feel, whether they won or lost their case, that Florida’s judicial system is fair, even for the “little guy,” especially if you have competent legal representation. 

I’d like to think most of my clients feel this way.  I’d like to think this is the legacy I will leave long after the foreclosure crisis is over. 

However, my clients make up an infinitely small percentage of those dealing with foreclosure.   

So the question becomes … what about all the rest? 

What does the typical Floridian think about our system of justice, having gone through the foreclosure courts?

Unfortunately, I fear most Floridians think our system of justice has no “justice” at all. 

I fear most Floridians view our courts as a forum for the rich and powerful (like banks) to achieve a result that the “little guy” (like homeowners) cannot possibly prevent, no matter the merits of the case. 

I fear many Floridians think judges don’t care about justice if they get too busy – that speed is more important than a just result. 

I fear many Floridians, rightly or wrongly, think judges are somehow aligned with the rich and powerful (like banks), and will look the other way when the rich and powerful put on fraudulent evidence to prove their case. 

I’m not saying I agree with these views.   And I realize these are horrifying statements. 

Unfortunately, this is what happens when hundreds of thousands of homeowners, most of whom have no experience with the legal system, get their foreclosure lawsuits adjudicated in the manner that many have been adjudicated – public perception of Florida’s system of justice goes down the toilet.     

In my view, these are the questions we should be asking:

 ”What is the legacy that we are leaving here?” 

“What will the typical Floridian think of the legal system in 15-20 years, after the foreclosure crisis is over?” 

“What am I doing to fix these problems, and leave a better legacy for Florida’s system of justice?” 

Now more than ever, it’s up to us to leave a better legacy. 

Thanks for your time.


Mark Stopa

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Pubic Perception of the Legal System

After a few more emails were exchanged in response to the posts, below, I wrote the following.  I did so because, in my view, the public’s perception of the legal system is at stake, and that point should not be lost in this debate. 

I understand and respect your point, Ms. Downs.  I truly do.  Respectfully, however, I’d respect your point more if you expressed the same concern about the problem as the adjective(s) used to describe the problem. 

After all, whether the problem is most appropriately described as “concerning” or “disgusting” does not change what has transpired in Lee County, nor does it faciliate a solution to the problem.   I responded to your first email with the following:  

I encourage you to read my affidavit, attached to the ACLU’s petition.  Don’t the facts set forth therein bother you?  What is your solution to fixing those problems?  I understand your critique of my position, but where is your solution to the inherent flaws in the systems being employed in Lee County?   

Unfortunately, you did not respond to those questions.  You likewise did not respond to my indications that there was nothing in the judges’ emails about administering justice, ensuring fairness, or complying with due process.   

Obviously you have no obligation to respond to me.  And I realize these are difficult, sensitive issues.  However, dialogue about these issues is absolutely necessary to help create a solution to the problem.  Judges have been engaging in this conduct, contrary to basic notions of due process, for years now, largely because nobody is standing up and saying it is wrong.  So while I understand your point about saying so in a tactful manner, to say nothing at all, in my view, is just as inappropriate, if not moreso.  After all, to do nothing is to enable the problem to persist, and to deny there’s a problem, in the face of those emails and the ACLU’s involvement, is misguided.  

You in particular have a unique position of authority in Florida.  People will listen to you.  For whatever my opinion may be worth, I encourage you to use your authority to let your voice be heard. What’s happening in Lee County courtrooms is wrong, and it’s time more people said so (with whatever adjective(s) you deem appropriate).   

A final point … I have spoken to thousands of homeowners in Florida.  The public’s perception of the judiciary has never been worse.  It is particularly bad in Lee County.  If we care, at all, about the public’s perception of lawyers and judges (as you obviously do), then we cannot sit idly and do nothing while the conduct that is happening in Lee County courtrooms keeps transpiring.  The absence of anyone speaking out is why the public’s perception of us has degraded to such low levels.

If you don’t know what I mean, I will gladly facilitate a way for you to talk to Lee County homeowners. Have you ever spoken to a Lee County homeowner?  Have you ever seen a foreclosure court proceeding there? Before you defend these judges any more, I encourage you to do so.  Regardless, no matter what you think of me, or foreclosure defense lawyers in general, I hope you will do something for the public’s sake.  After all, I assure you, at stake here is far more than the adjectives used to describe the conduct.   

Thank you.

Mark Stopa

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