Archive for June 20th, 2013

Earning Respect from the Judiciary

My last post, entitled Attorneys’ Fees in Foreclosure Cases, has garnered some disagreement amongst my colleagues.  Some foreclosure defense attorneys insist that the systematic fairness exhibited by judges in the Tampa/St. Pete area, as opposed to some of the systems employed in other parts of Florida, is purely a function of luck.  They insist the fees they charge and the business models they employ have nothing to do with it.

I beg to differ.

Honorable Thomas McGrady is the Chief Judge for Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit, covering Pinellas and Pasco Counties.  When my foreclosure defense concepts first hit the local media back in 2009, Judge McGrady did not seem to like it.  His comments to a reporter at the time, according to the reporter, were that foreclosure cases are “rarely dismissed,” defense tactics have “little chance of succeeding,” and that foreclosure defense is “just a stall.”

A lot has changed since that time.  To illustrate, just last week Judge McGrady held a conference in Clearwater with attorneys for banks AND homeowners – plaintiffs’ attorneys AND defense counsel – explaining how the court was changing its procedures for the adjudication of foreclosure cases in Pinellas County.  Judge McGrady invited everyone, took questions, and was open to input/suggestions from both sides.  It was tremendously professional and respectful to everyone involved in foreclosure-world.  That wasn’t the first time Judge McGrady had held such a conference, either.

Maybe I’ve missed something, but I don’t see conferences like that happening in other parts of Florida.  Do you?  Does the Chief Judge in other parts of Florida accept input from attorneys on both sides, in an open forum, regarding procedural/administrative issues?  If so, then I’m not aware of it.  That’s not a criticism of them, of course … it’s a compliment to what we have in this area.  Conferences like this are a reflection of a court system going above and beyond the call of duty, striving to ensure fairness.  So … you tell me.  What do you think changed from that first article in 2009 to today?

In my opinion, the answer is clear.  There are a handful of defense attorneys in this area – not just me, but a handful – who have earned the respect of the judiciary.  (I’m not going to name names, but if you’re reading this, you know who they are.)  We work hard for homeowners.  We care about our clients and our community.  We come to court prepared, and we make legitimate, bona-fide arguments.  We charge reasonable fees, not trying to bilk homeowners out of their last dollar in their time of need.

When we act in these ways, over and over again, how can any judge do anything but respect our efforts?  It doesn’t mean we’re always right, and it certainly doesn’t mean we’ll always win, but we will have earned respect.

There are good attorneys in other parts of the state, of course.  As I indicated in my prior blog post, though, I can’t help but wonder if the dynamics in other parts of Florida aren’t different because judges are turned off at the fees being charged by some of these firms.

All of the attorneys who didn’t like my last post should think about this.  Think about how the dynamic with Chief Judge McGrady has evolved since 2009.  Read what he said in 2009, and look at how things operate now.  Think about that the next time you feel like you got railroaded in court, the next time you felt disrespected.  Like it or not, in this area of law in particular, respect is earned.

Mark Stopa

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