Palm Beach County launches “rocket docket”
This is original content written by Roy Oppenheim from “Behind The Trenches” for The South Florida Law Blog. All rights reserved.
Palm Beach County, Florida just became the latest circuit in Florida to launch what has become known in the world of foreclosures as the “rocket docket,” HB87 bill.
Oh sure, they’re not calling it a rocket docket this time because the first time the issue was raised a few years ago there was a big stink from the ACLU and others about the constitutionality of cramming court cases through the system without due process.
If you read through the administrative order that was signed last week by Palm Beach County Chief Judge Peter Blanc, you will see that deadlines are being set, sanctions are being imposed for violation of deadlines and attorneys are being told to begin setting blocks of residential foreclosure cases for trial.
Palm Beach County is actually a little slow to the party. Miami-Dade County started its rocket docket a few months ago — setting aside one minute for uncontested cases and a whole five minutes for contested ones.
A recent article in the Palm Beach Post suggests about 30 percent of Palm Beach County’s foreclosure cases are three years old or older.
These rocket dockets are one of those good news-bad news stories. The good news is that all of those foreclosures clogging up the court system will be moved through, freeing up homes to be sold and eventually resulting in an improved housing market.
There’s also more good news for those who are represented by counsel. If they are able to successfully question the integrity of the bank’s foreclosure documents and witnesses, they will be able to get out from under their foreclosure faster and possibly even remain in their homes. That’s because banks simply won’t have the time to prepare and prove their case.
On the other hand, what about the guy who can’t afford an attorney? They make up about 95 percent of foreclosure victims. Are they not entitled to due process? Without counsel, they will be blasted right through the docket and out of their homes.
And, what about the ethical quandary created for judges? Are they beholden to the notion of a speedy docket or to upholding the law by providing those before them with due process?
There are so many legal issues that can crop up in a foreclosure — ranging from validity of signatures to whether assignments of mortgages were done improperly, to simply sloppy paperwork. These are not matters that can be resolved in a one-minute hearing before a more-often-than-not retired judge.
So, who in the end benefits? Not the judges, probably not even the courts, because as soon as 100 foreclosures are cleared 100 more are right behind them. The banks, for sure, will benefit as they will get more of their foreclosures through the process faster.
However, and I am a little embarrassed to say this, the only ones who surely come out winners in this battle are foreclosure defense attorneys who will become in greater demand as those facing foreclosure seek out our help in an effort to save their homes.
Real estate attorney Roy Oppenheim left Wall Street for Main Street, founding Oppenheim Law along with his wife, Ellen in 1989 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is vice president of Weston Title and creator of the South Florida Law Blog, named the best business and technology blog by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Follow Roy on Twitter at @OpLaw or like Oppenheim Law on Facebook.