Florida judges are getting more and more fed up with the shoddy paperwork being presented to the courts in foreclosure cases. With the nation’s largest mortgage lenders and Florida’s largest lender-side foreclosure law firms increasingly caught up in “Foreclosure-Gate” scandals, judges at both the trial and appellate levels are routinely throwing out cases based on documents showing signs of “robo-signing” or other questionable practices.
After investigations by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, the Florida Bar and others, foreclosure defense attorneys have uncovered countless examples where banks or law firms have post-dated documents, forged signatures, submitted “robo-signed” affidavits, lost paperwork, or shown no evidence that they even hold the mortgages they claim are in default.
The most notable example took place in February. Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Maxine Cohen Lando was so disgusted by apparently false and incomplete documentation in one foreclosure that she threw the case out of court. The homeowner now owns the home free and clear, and the bank is barred from refiling the foreclosure action.
She also called Marc Ben-Ezra, the founding partner of Ben-Ezra & Katz, one of Florida’s biggest foreclosure firms representing banks, to answer for the firm’s work, which she called “shoddy,” “grossly incompetent” and “a fraud upon the court.” Although an associate at the firm was responsible, Lando called Ben-Ezra & Katz a “robot” law firm that just filed whatever documents robo-signing banks sent to it. She then held Marc Ben-Ezra in contempt of court.
According to a review of cases by the Palm Beach Post, judges in foreclosure courts are starting to throw such cases out pretty routinely. In most cases, the bank is allowed to refile the case if it can get the proper documents in order. However, in a growing number of cases judges are following Judge Lando’s lead and awarding homeowners clear title.
“She has become a voice for other judges,” said the foreclosure defense lawyer in the case Lando first tossed. “If judges crack down on following the rules, we’ll still have foreclosures, but maybe the banks will pay attention and do it right.”
Critics say judges aren’t doing enough to stop wrongful foreclosures
“The judges are the gatekeepers to jurisprudence, to the Florida Constitution, to access to the courts and to due process,” says one foreclosure defense attorney from Jacksonville. “It’s discouraging when it appears as if there is an exception being made for foreclosure cases.”
Unfortunately, Florida’s courts are already overburdened with a huge backlog in foreclosure cases, which has led to mandatory mediation and foreclosure “rocket dockets.” Carefully reviewing each and every document will cost a lot of court resources. Courts are supposed to be able to rely on documents submitted by attorneys, because it is their ethical duty to submit valid evidence.
University of Miami Law Professor A. Michael Froomkin argues that justice simply can’t allow judges to hurry questionable cases through the system due to budget constraints.
“Substantive justice still needs to be done, and that’s very hard sometimes,” Froomkin told the Palm Beach Post. “When I read stories about judges looking at things more carefully and holding attorneys accountable, to me, the system is doing what it needs to do.”
Source: Palm Beach Post, “Foreclosure crisis: Fed-up judges crack down on disorder in the courts,” Christine Stapleton and Kimberly Miller, April 4, 2011