Archive for August 18th, 2011

What’s Happening in Foreclosure Cases?

Florida just revealed these statistics on the adjudication of foreclosure cases in the past year, and I’m pleasantly surprised.  More than 104,000 foreclosure cases were dismissed in Florida in the past 12 months – greater than the number of summary judgments that were entered over this same time period. 

That’s terrific news.  It proves there are ways to reduce the backlog of foreclosure cases in Florida courts without entering summary judgments and throwing homeowners on the streets. 

Know what else jumps out at me?  The number of trials.  198.  That’s 198 trials in the entire year, across the entire state.  As I see it, that’s a glaring sign that banks don’t want to go to trial in foreclosure cases.  What does that mean for homeowners?  Just what I’ve been saying for years now – fight your case, force the banks to prove their entitlement to a foreclosure in court, force them to go to trial, and you may give yourself leverage to get a settlement/resolution that you can live with.  Heck, you might even prompt a bank to dismiss the case. 

Kim Miller of the Palm Beach Post just wrote a story on this issue; here it is.

Florida’s courts cleared 201,524 foreclosure cases from its backlog with the help of an additional $6 million from lawmakers, but more than half of the cases were dismissals possibly initiated by banks needing to redo faulty paperwork.

The statewide foreclosure backlog in the courts now stands at 260,815 cases, a 43 percent reduction from June 2010, according to a report from the Office of the State Courts Administrator.

Palm Beach County’s foreclosure backlog shrank 49 percent, from 46,438 cases to 23,725.

“Overall, I thought the reduction was reasonable in light of everything that happened,” said Palm Beach County Chief Judge Peter Blanc, referring to a bank-initiated foreclosure moratorium in the fall and subsequent slowdown after paperwork problems were recognized. “It’s a fine balance because if we go too quickly, we’re criticized for being a rocket docket; if we go too slow, we’re not efficiently using our resources.”

In 2010, facing a growing backlog of more than 462,000 foreclosure cases statewide, the legislature gave Florida’s courts a one-time allowance of $6 million to hire additional judges and case managers. An additional $3.6 million was awarded to clerks’ offices to process the increased paperwork.

The money started flowing July 1, 2010, and ended June 30 .

Of the cases cleared during the year, 96,630 were disposed in a final judgment that likely sent the home to a foreclosure auction; 198 went to trial; 570 were either consolidated into another case, transferred or are unidentified; and 104,126 were dismissed .

A dismissal can occur if a case is settled, possibly during court-ordered mediation; if a judge orders it; or through a voluntary motion made by the bank.

Unless otherwise ordered by a judge, a dismissed foreclosure case can usually be refiled.

“This is good news that proves there are ways to resolve foreclosure cases without a summary judgment,” said Mark Stopa, a Tampa-based foreclosure defense attorney. “The bad news is that most of these dismissals were not dismissals on the merits, but were banks deciding to drop the case or the bank being too slow to prosecute its case or retain new counsel.”

As many as 100,000 foreclosures statewide were left in limbo this year when the Plantation-based Law Offices of David J. Stern closed without officially withdrawing as counsel.

Stern’s firm, once the largest bank representative in the state, lost most of its clients in the fall following allegations that his employees forged documents, improperly notarized paperwork and hid flawed files from auditors. The firm has denied the allegations.

Stern’s former cases were transferred to new attorneys, but in the process may have been dismissed if it couldn’t be determined who was representing the bank.

Also, defense attorneys said they’ve seen banks dismiss cases right before trial because of faulty paperwork.

“We had five cases dismissed the week before trial at the end of June,” said Ron Kaniuk, a Boca Raton-based foreclosure defense attorney. “The banks weren’t ready. They didn’t have their paperwork ready.”

Kaniuk said he’s concerned that too many cases were rushed through the courts by judges under pressure to clear dockets with the additional state money.

“It was money well spent for the banks and the courts, but not for Floridians and homeowners,” he said.

No additional money was awarded this year to handle the still weighty foreclosure backlog.

With more foreclosures predicted, Blanc said he’s cobbled together a schedule with one full-time foreclosure judge and others who help out one day a week.

Broward County, which was left in June with a 27,748-case backlog, also is down to one full-time foreclosure judge.

“I think there’s no doubt it’s a large number,” Broward County Chief Judge Peter Weinstein said of the backlog. “We have people calling all day with problems and questions, and we don’t have the staff anymore to take care of it.”

Mark Stopa

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Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?

A handful of reporters in this country have done a fantastic job bringing to light various travesties of justice on foreclosure-related issues – Shannon Behnken of the Tampa Tribune, Kim Miller of the Palm Beach Post, multiple reporters from the St. Pete Times, and David Streitfeld of the New York Times, to name a few.  

One of my personal favorites is from what could be deemed a pretty odd source – Rolling Stone Magazine.  Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has written several articles now that should make every American wonder: 

What the hell is going on in the U.S. Government?

Taibbi’s lastest masterpiece, titled Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?, is a must-read.  Yes, it’s lengthy, but it is very insightful, shedding light on the question many of us have wondered for a long time:

Why has nobody been punished for financial crimes that ruined the U.S. economy?

The incestuous relationships between the big banks and the regulatory agencies that enforce them is laid out again in this article.  It’s so disgusting, in my view, that I think a Presidential candidate for 2012 could emerge with just one platform:

Eradicating the corrpution in Wall Street and the incest between the big banks and the agencies charged with enforcing them.

If that sounds crazy, think about how much money our country would save if banks didn’t have free reign to commit financial crimes without penalty.  When I read Taibbi’s article, it made me wonder why the SEC even exists.  If that sounds harsh, you tell me – why are SEC officials terminating criminal investigations into big banks, then leaving their SEC jobs for high-paying positions with those very banks?  Does that sound like justice to you, or a horribly perverted, incestuous mockery of justice? (For details, please, read the article.)

Our financial system has run amuck, and it’s past time somebody stood up to do something about it.  And that somebody should be someone other than a reporter for a rock-and-roll magazine.  Presidential candidates … Congressmen … the floor is yours.

Mark Stopa

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