It just keeps getting better and better…in a recent letter sent to the chief judges of all 20 Florida judicial circuit courts, Chief Justice Charles Canady of the Florida Supreme Court was compelled by horror stories from the foreclosure courts to remind judges they should be following the law when deciding foreclosure cases. The Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi: Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners from last week appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and finally shed some light on this crisis.
Chief Justice Canady’s letter was spurred by complaints the Judge received from several heavy hitters in the civil rights movement, including the Florida Press Association, the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, the First Amendment Foundation, the Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, and the Florida Times-Union.
The problem: judges are barring public access to foreclosure cases. Florida has long been known as a state with free access to the courts. However, some judges and judicial staff are using the excuse that many foreclosure cases are now being heard in judge’s chambers rather than in courtrooms due to space constraints to tell people, including the press and pro se litigants that foreclosure proceedings are closed to the public.
In his letter, Justice Canady offers a scathing rebuke to the judges regarding this behavior. But let me share a little secret with you . . . it is a disgrace that he should have to tell judges that courtrooms are public forums, and he certainly shouldn’t have to remind judges that they should be following that law. How ridiculous is that?
Perhaps this effort to exclude the public and the press from the courtrooms is because the judges know in their heart of hearts that they are not following the rules. Public access to the courts has been one of the many ways of monitoring the court, of having a public watchdog to make sure that judges are following procedure, and following law. In fact, in court the other day in my opening statement to a judge I reminded him that when I practice law, I like to follow things like the Rules of Civil Procedure. Closing the courts to the public is just one more way for judges to meet their quota on the rocket docket without public outcry over the fact that individual property and due process rights are being trampled in the process.
Perhaps Justice Canady’s closing line in his letter says it best when it comes to dealing with the avalanche of foreclosures in Florida.
“I am confident that with the cooperation of all judges and court staff…the Florida courts will be able to meet this challenge in a manner that protects and preserves the rights of all parties as well as interested observers,” Canady stated.
Well, that would be nice, but it certainly hasn’t been the case so far. Who knows, maybe this will be the inspiration needed to have judges on the rocket docket actually follow the law as well. I mean, we can all hope . . .
From the trenches