Archive for January 21st, 2012

300 Foreclosures in 3 Days? … Not on My Watch

Making the rounds this week was a story about a Seminole County judge who heard 300 foreclosure cases over a three-day period.  Many media outlets and consumer advocates found this troubling, as it gave the judge less than a minute to adjudicate each case.

This is a terribly sad and unfortunate dynamic.  You know the story – as Florida courts are inundated with foreclosure cases, and the Florida legislature refuses to give our courts the money it needs to function properly, some judges have felt they have no choice but to operate in this fashion. 

I’m pleased to say this type of time crunch rarely if ever happens in cases in which I’m counsel.  Why?  Three simple reasons:

1.  I’m a lawyer.  I hate to say it, but sometimes attorneys are given more respect than pro se litigants.  Remember, all judges are lawyers, and most judges are unlikely to force a fellow attorney to conduct a hearing in 30 seconds. 

I can certainly see how some would think it’s unfair to treat lawyers better than pro se homeowners.  However, candidly, I can see this from both sides.  I’ve watched many hearings where homeowners try to defend themselves but, frankly, have no idea what arguments to make or how to make them.  For instance, “I lost my job” is almost never relevant in a foreclosure case. 

Like it or not, hiring an attorney may give homeowners a better chance of being heard in court. 

2.  “Contested” cases are treated differently.  Many Florida judges treat “contested” foreclosure cases and “uncontested” foreclosure cases differently.  “Uncontested” cases often get set for hearing at the same time as dozens of other cases.  The judges’ rationale in doing so is that nobody is opposing these cases (hence the “uncontested”), so the court can have hearings in such cases quickly, one after another.  Hence, if a homeowner shows up to attend a hearing in such a case, it may have already been set on the court’s calendar for a quick, “uncontested” hearing. 

Conversely, judges know that hearings in “contested” cases will take longer to adjudicate, as someone is there defending them.  Hence, hearings in these cases are often scheduled differently on the court’s calendar.  As a result, contesting your foreclosure case from the outset may ensure your hearing is set in a manner that ensures you have more time to be heard.   

If that doesn’t make sense, look at it this way …

Many Florida judges know that my colleagues and I aren’t going to roll over and consent to foreclosure in a 30-second hearing.  We’re going to have extensive legal arguments and case law.  So the judges aren’t likely to set a hearing in our cases at the same time as hearings in other cases where nobody is arguing.  My hearing might take 20 minutes, while the court could take that same 20 minutes to hear 20 cases.  What do you think the court is going to do, wait on 20 other cases to hear my one case for 20 minutes, or handle the 20 uncontested cases?   

3.  I ask.  In the unusual situation where a hearing in one of my cases is set on a “mass motion” calendar with many other cases, all at once, I ask that the hearing be continued, i.e. file a Motion for Continuance, to ensure more hearing time. 

This is a really simple argument, actually. 

“Judge, I see you have many other cases set for hearing today.  My argument is going to be 15-20 minutes, with case law, so I respectfully submit this case should be heard on another day.” 

What do you think the judge is going to do, delay the hearing in 20 other cases, or the hearing in my one case? 

Having 300 foreclosure cases heard in a three-day period is unfortunate.  Frankly, however, it’s a problem that, quite often, is fairly easy to avoid.

Mark Stopa

Posted in Main | 4 Comments »