Archive for March 21st, 2013

Hillsborough and Pinellas – A Light in the Darkness

There’s a lot of ugliness in foreclosure-world nowadays, particularly in Florida.  The legislature is considering proposed bills (including one named SB1666 – the mark of the beast) designed to help banks accelerate foreclosure cases.  There are rocket dockets.  One-minute hearings.  Trials scheduled in mass.  Widespread complaints about lack of due process.  Homeowners who show up at hearings and aren’t permitted to speak.  Fortunately, not everything is dark and gloomy.  Through it all, the court systems in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County continue to shine a light in all the darkness, exemplifying how foreclosure cases should be handled.

Often, when I say things like this, people assume I’m doing so because the judges in those counties have ruled in my favor.  That’s not it.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s nice to win, of course.  But this isn’t about winning and losing.  It’s about being given a fair shake.  It’s about the judges taking the time to listen to the arguments and read the case law presented … not being pushed through as if you’re on an assembly line.  It’s about everyone realizing each case is no less important – and no less deserving of court attention – simply because it’s a foreclosure case.  It’s about the integrity of the judiciary being upheld regardless of the pressure being exerted by outside forces.  (Yes, I’m talking about you there, legislature.)

By way of example, this past Tuesday, I had two hearings scheduled at 11am in Hillsborough.  I lost both hearings.  While that was disappointing, I had nothing to complain about.  After all, the judge was very thorough and deliberate, reading all of my case law and listening attentively to both sides.  In fact, those two hearings lasted a full hour!  Knowing that the judge was fair, listened closely, read all the case law, and tried to follow the law … that’s all anyone can ask in any case.  In fact, the next day I showed up before that same judge and won.  That’s how it works … you win some, you lose some … but regardless of the outcome, when you leave that courthouse, you want to know you were treated fairly.  That’s all anyone can ask, on either side.

One interesting note about the repeated fairness exhibited by the courts in Pinellas and Hillsborough is the vastly different ways they go about it.  In Pinellas, most of my hearings are before sitting, elected, circuit court judges.  In Tampa, all foreclosure hearings are before senior judges, who rotate (such that you often don’t know which judge you’ll have until the week of the hearing).  Most hearings in Hillsborough are on a mass-motion calendar, whereas most in Pinellas are special-set.  Despite these vastly different set-ups, both counties manage to function in a fair and efficient manner.  If I go to court with a loser argument, I’m going to lose, as I should.  If I go to Court with a winner argument, I’m going to win, as I should.  If it’s a gray area, as many legal arguments are, I may win or I may lose, but I’ll know I got a fair shake.

So thank you, Hillsborough and Pinellas.  You’re wonderful examples of how the process can work.  You’re a light in the darkness, and we all appreciate it.  I hope everyone is watching, as, if they’re not, they should be.

Mark Stopa

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