We write as members of The Florida Bar and in some cases as members of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section to express our deep concern with the section’s support of Senate Bill 1666 and House Bill 87, which propose to materially change the rules governing foreclosures in Florida.
The proposed amendments are in complete derogation to fundamental tenets of due process and property rights. The passing of this legislation would completely disregard the evidence code, allowing courts to presume liability with only a prima facie showing by the plaintiff, and without opportunity of homeowners to conduct discovery into possible abuses by the banking industry that often result in out-of-court settlements between lenders and homeowners, or a rash of voluntary dismissals by the banks.
This proposed legislation would effectively undo 250 years of American jurisprudence, returning us to a legal dark age. Furthermore, certain proposed amendments would apply retroactively, creating ex post facto provisions which violate both our state and federal constitutions.
The proposed legislation favors banks, retired judges, homeowners’ associations and title insurance companies, and disfavors homeowners and newspapers. While banks support the bills because they provide them with an expedited procedure of foreclosure, many of these procedures will effectively reduce the financial incentive for lenders to participate in short sales and negotiated settlements that are helping restabilize the Florida real estate economy.
SB 1666 proposes to dramatically increase the use of retired senior judges, an issue that has profound constitutional implications. Article V of Florida’s Constitution requires that judges who reach the age of 70 retire and cease to maintain full case loads. The Florida Constitution also requires judges who preside over cases reside in the communities in which they serve and face the will of the voting public through retention votes. The proposed legislation completely ignores these fundamental protections. Foreclosure judgments entered by these senior judges will perpetually be attacked as unconstitutional, which will create unsettled cases for potentially decades, making matters ultimately worse. Overburdening of the district courts of appeal that are already struggling to keep up is not sound policy.These bills are more interested in protecting the banking and the title insurance industries than protecting the larger interests of the Constitution, the judicial system as a whole, and the rights of homeowners. The “Finality of Foreclosure” provisions in these bills prevent homeowners from ever getting their home back even after a fraudulent foreclosure is overturned; rather, the homeowner would be entitled to economic damages only. No matter how blatant the fraud, no matter how obvious the forgery, no matter what errors are committed, once a judgment is entered, the wronged homeowner could never get that property back again.