Florida Court Records Reveal Push By Lee County Judges To Speed Through Foreclosure Cases

April 15, 2011 12:39 pm

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Obtained By ACLU Through Public Records Request, Documents Helped Shape Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality Of Lee County’s “Mass Foreclosure Docket”

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NEW YORK – Documents made public by the American Civil Liberties Union today reveal a startling rush by judges in Lee County, FL to force as many foreclosure cases as possible through a specially created court system.

The documents, obtained by the ACLU through a public records request filed in October with judicial officials across Florida, provided part of the basis for a petition filed last week by the ACLU charging that the special “mass foreclosure docket” in Lee County systematically denies homeowners a fair opportunity to defend their homes against foreclosure.

“It is clear that one of the chief problems plaguing the foreclosure court system in Lee County is the emphasis on speed at the expense of accuracy,” said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “It’s startling and more than a little troubling to know that judges at times have sped through as many as 200 cases in a single day.”

Among the documents made public today are internal emails sent among Lee County foreclosure court officials. One of the emails outlined the court’s specific numerical goal for clearing foreclosure cases, which the court had not previously made public. According to a court administrator, “our goal for this project is to “dispose of” the number of cases filed each month “plus 1,040 additional cases.” In another email from September 2010, one judge says she “uniformly” denies motions to continue foreclosure cases in instances where homeowners argue there is additional discovery that needs to be undertaken or they are pursuing a settlement agreement. And in an August 2010 email, one judge reports to another his concern that particular plaintiffs’ attorneys are “getting burned out” by the pace of the foreclosure court’s docket and asking for ways in which judges might “give them some relief or help them in some way.”

The ACLU’s October public records request was filed with the Office of the State Court Administrator and the chief judges of all 20 of Florida’s circuit courts and sought documents related to the special court systems created to dispose of foreclosure cases. The documents made public today pertain only to the 20th judicial circuit’s “mass foreclosure docket.”

The petition filed by the ACLU last week in Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal charges that the “mass foreclosure docket” established in Lee County in 2008 operates under rules that differ substantially from those that govern the rest of the county’s civil cases and was designed to speed through as many foreclosure cases as possible without providing homeowners facing foreclosure a meaningful opportunity to develop their cases or present defenses.

The documents made public today by the ACLU are available online at: https://www.aclu.org/florida-foreclosure-records-search

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