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Friday, February 20, 2009
Foreclosure Rocket Docket trial in 15 seconds
Banks foreclose even when no payments were missed or late, when property values drop below the equity required in the mortgage contract. Or when 3 paymets were late in 30 years.
Court's 'rocket docket' blasts through foreclosures
FORT MYERS - Hoping to save her house, Saundra Hill Scott arrived at the county courthouse clutching dog-eared mortgage bills and letters from her lender.
She need not have bothered. The foreclosure hearing lasted less than 20 seconds, with Judge John Carlin asking her two questions: Are you current on your mortgage and are you living in the home? She answered no and yes and then offered to show him her paperwork.
"I don't need to see that. That's between you and the bank," he said as he gave Hill Scott, her husband and three grandchildren 60 days to work out a deal with their lender or vacate their three-bedroom house.
As the Obama administration unveiled its plan to rescue the U.S. housing market, officials in Lee County have come up with their own plan for dealing with the crisis. To clear a huge backlog of foreclosures, judges are hearing "rocket dockets" of nearly 1,000 cases per day and calling retired colleagues back to the bench to help ease the workload.
Two years ago, Lee's court system had about 1,900 foreclosure cases on the books. That number swelled to 24,000 by the beginning of 2009.
But some homeowners who do come to court are annoyed that they are given only a few seconds to speak to the judge.
"The judge didn't want to hear from me," said a frustrated Reed Morgan, a self-employed business consultant, wearing loafers and a blue oxford shirt, after Judge Carlin gave him 60 days to work out a modification plan with his lender or vacate his three-bedroom house.
Minutes after the bailiff opened the courtroom doors at a recent hearing, every seat was filled with delinquent homeowners: a mechanic with two pierced ears and a goatee, a young woman in a car-rental uniform, a gray-haired landlord who rehearsed his lines with the woman next to him.
"It's like the Exodus," said Hill Scott, a middle-school teacher who went into default after her monthly payments on her adjustable-rate mortgage reset. She now owes $3,300 per month, up from the $1,600 a year ago. She has not made a mortgage payment since January 2008 and is in negotiations with her lender.
During a break in the hearing, lawyers used dollies to wheel in boxes containing hundreds of case files, which they piled onto tables and on the floor.
One lawyer, wearing a dark suit and untucked white shirt ran between the judge's bench and the dozens of open boxes on the floor. His colleagues sat cross-legged on the courtroom floor, sorting files. The judge signed dozens of them without discussion and passed them to a row of court employees to process.
"Case No. 136," the clerk intoned. "Wells Fargo versus Edward Callahan."
Judge Carlin asked whether the man was living in the house and was current on his mortgage. He answered no to both questions.
"Your house will be sold in 45 days," said the judge. "That's all for today."
Case time: 15 seconds.
The judges say they sympathize with the homeowners' hardships, but often the cases can be decided after a brief hearing because there are no legal issues in dispute. Some homeowners do not understand that they are required to file paperwork before the hearing to challenge the lender's case. Many never file the documents or hire lawyers.
The lawyers are doing well, though. They can earn as much as $100 per foreclosure to present cases to the judge that have been prepared by big law firms in Miami and Tampa hired by out-of-state lenders.
But speed is of the essence. Lee County lawyers speak in hushed tones of one firm that made the mistake of not being organized enough at a rocket-docket hearing. The judge postponed their foreclosure actions for an additional 60 days. "Lenders don't like delays," says Hill, who averages 1,900 foreclosure cases a month.
1,900 cases per month at $100 each pays each lawyer $190,000 PER MONTH personal income stealing houses for banksters who never loaned any money but counterfeited loans out of printer ink.
This is why fighting traffic tickets can pay you $100,000, to know when judges lie and bluff.