Task force to seek answer to foreclosure court backlog

Task force to seek answer to foreclosure court backlog


Posted on Tue, Mar. 10, 2009

To sandbag the flood of foreclosures pouring into the state's underfunded court system, the Florida Supreme Court announced the formation of a statewide task force on Monday that will look for solutions to the docket backlog while ensuring borrowers and lenders are treated fairly.

''This is a hurricane that has hit our state,'' said Miami Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey, who was appointed to lead the 15-member task force.

``Over 75 percent of the incoming cases are mortgage foreclosures. Our dockets have exploded.''

The task force will take specific aim at integrating the growing patchwork of judicial rules that have been established by the state's circuit court judges as they seek to manage the influx of cases.

Some circuit districts, for instance, require lenders to provide homeowners with contact numbers for nonprofit legal help when filing foreclosure. Others refuse to hear cases when representatives for the parties are not physically present in court. Still others require mediation.

Lenders and others have complained the ad hoc rules have made filing foreclosures more difficult and more expensive at a time when banks are dealing with massive losses from delinquent borrowers.


Florida leads the nation in mortgage delinquencies, with one in five loans one payment or more past due, according to a report last week by the Mortgage Bankers Association. The volume of cases has resulted ''in a tremendous strain on limited judicial resources,'' the order said. In Miami-Dade County, Bailey said, foreclosures ballooned to more than 56,000 cases last year.

Statewide, the time needed to complete a foreclosure has increased from roughly 150 days to around 300, leaving homes vacant longer and condo associations hurting from unpaid maintenance fees.

The task force order follows a separate emergency petition filed last month asking the Supreme Court to require mandatory mediation between homeowners and lenders before a final judgment is rendered and a sale date set for a home.

The 11th Circuit Court in Miami-Dade has been evaluating a managed mediation program that has been adopted in other districts. The idea is to facilitate the communication of borrowers and lenders out of court in hopes of lessening the strain on state resources.

'Literally, we have lenders' attorneys moving forward on summary judgment hearings who don't even know when the lender has agreed to modify a mortgage with a borrower,'' Bailey said.

The Center for Responsible Lending estimated that 131,400 Florida foreclosures could be avoided by a court-supervised modification, possibly achieved through mediation. Others states have already implemented mandatory mediation.


There is renewed interest in such programs in light of a $75 billion homeowner rescue plan announced by the Obama administration that seeks to help up to nine million homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying their mortgage terms or refinancing them into new loans with lower interest rates.

Marc Ben Ezra, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who handles foreclosures for lenders, said there is a huge need for uniform statewide rules. But he said forced mediation is not the answer.

''There are many cases where borrowers are unable to be helped or the lender has already tried to help and they have not been able to reach any kind of accommodation,'' he said, ``This would slow down the process and raise costs.''