Florida has pulled in retired judges to clear its courts of foreclosure cases. It may accomplish that but it sure doesn’t sound like the judicial system I worked in. On the other hand, should deadbeats be permitted to stay in their houses years after they’ve defaulted?
TEN days from now, a four-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac in Middleburg, Fla., is scheduled to be auctioned off at the Clay County courthouse, 25 miles south of Jacksonville.
A judge who recently took over their foreclosure case has ordered Rodney Waters; his fiancée, Terri Reese; and their four children to leave the home they bought in 2006.
Mr. Waters, a supervisor at a local packaging company and the family’s sole breadwinner, fell behind on his mortgage two years ago after his property taxes jumped unexpectedly. He now owes $264,000 on the house; a similar home down the street sold for $138,500 in February.
The predicament of the Waters-Reese family is common in Florida today. The state routinely sets new records for foreclosures — in the second quarter, 20.13 percent of its mortgages were delinquent or in foreclosure, a national high, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. And with housing prices still in a free fall, almost half of all borrowers in Florida owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth, says CoreLogic, a data firm.
While the Waters-Reese case may not be unusual in Florida, the coming auction of the home is still notable: it will be a result of the Florida Legislature’s new effort to cut the number of foreclosures inching their way through the state’s courts. Earlier this year, Florida earmarked $9.6 million to set up foreclosures-only courts across the state, staffed by retired judges. The goal of the program, which began in July, is to reduce the foreclosures backlog by 62 percent within a year.
No one disputes that foreclosures dominate Florida’s dockets and that something needs to be done to streamline a complex and emotionally wrenching process. But lawyers representing troubled borrowers contend that many of the retired judges called in from the sidelines to oversee these matters are so focused on cutting the caseload that they are unfairly favoring financial institutions at the expense of homeowners.