Archive for June 28th, 2011

Where is the Outrage?

I was so pissed when I read this story, about an elderly Tampa man whose possessions were thrown away by a bank while he was on vacation, I had to take a day and simmer down.  

What is wrong with this country?  Where is the outrage here?  This man owned his home outright – he wasn’t even in foreclosure – only to return from vacation and find his home completely gutted and all of his possessions thrown away.  Gone.  Poof.  Imagine it – you come home from vacation and everything you own is gone. 

The fact that this man wasn’t in foreclosure certainly makes this story worse.  But seriously, would this story somehow be less bad if he had been in foreclosure?  

Suppose he was in foreclosure.  Are you telling me it’s OK for a bank to enter a person’s home and throw away all of the possessions contained therein?  Collectibles?  Antiques?  Photographs of his deceased wife?  No court order, no sheriff on the premises – just a bank throwing everything away.  I dare anyone to explain to me any circumstance – foreclosure or not – where this is OK. 

I don’t know this man or the lawyer representing him.  But I hope he wins a huge, seven-figure verdict against this bank and all persons responsible.  Perhaps if there were a disproportionate punishment for egregious misconduct then the banks would start to give a damn about something besides their bottom line.  That’s the point of punitive damages, for instance – to punish.  Obviously, that’s what’s needed here.

Mark Stopa

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Tampa Judges Eschewing Hearings in Foreclosure Cases

We all know that the senior judges are on their way out in Florida.  In counties like Hillsborough, where a handful of senior judges have been handling all residential foreclosure hearings for more than a year, this is a big transformation.  Suddenly, thousands of foreclosure cases are being transferred back to the regular, circuit court judges.  Suffice it to say I’ve been curious to see how foreclosure cases would progress with “normal” judges. 

So far, I’m not pleased.  In recent days, two of the “normal” circuit court judges have ruled on motions in foreclosure cases without a hearing.  One judge filed an Order warning the parties to file written memos, upon which he may rule without a hearing, while another judge took it a step further by ruling without a hearing without the opportunity for further briefing.  There was no notice, no warning – just a signed Order in the mail. 

Respectfully, this process is offensive, and the appearance of impropriety is just overwhelming.  I mean, I’ve had a sitting circuit judge actually tell me that he doubts the judges who apply this ‘procedure’ are reading the motions before adjudicating them.  When a judge tells me that, I know I’m not crazy for questioning it myself. 

What makes this even more inappropriate in my eyes is that these judges haven’t been hearing residential foreclosure cases for a year.  Respectfully, how do they know the law well enough to be making rulings without a hearing? 

Maybe these judges think that motions to dismiss in foreclosure cases are just a delay tactic.  Maybe with others, but not me.  The motions to dismiss that my firm drafts are often granted.  Telligly, the bank’s lawyers often consent to an order granting these motions (realizing they would lose the hearing if it went forward).  What kind of perverse dynamic do we have where the bank’s lawyers realize our arguments are well-taken but the judges refuse to even give us a hearing? 

Is it really too much to ask for a chance to present my arguments to these judges in open court, just as I would for any other defendant in any other case.  Unless and until these judges are willing to do that, I’m going to remain bitterly disappointed in the manner in which these cases are being adjudicated.

Mark Stopa

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