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Florida Rocket Docket Reveals Need for Moratorium

If you still think that a world without foreclosures is like a world without sunshine, and that a moratorium would be CATASTROPHIC!!!, you need to take a look at what’s been happening in Florida. The state, with its major housing crash, has become the hub of foreclosure fraud, with the state government making an effort to facilitate it through the use of special foreclosure courts. In fact, that’s how this whole mess reached the popular consciousness, though it’s been percolating in the background for years.

Bloomberg took a look at the rocket docket today:

Home to more foreclosures than 47 U.S. states, Florida sought to clear out its backlog with a system of special court hearings that dispensed with cases quickly, sometimes in less than a minute.

Homeowners like Nicole West now threaten to slow that system, Florida’s so-called rocket docket, to a crawl. West, who has been fighting to save her Jensen Beach house from foreclosure, has leveled a new allegation in her three-year battle: the entire process is based on fraud.

West said her case is rife with the kind of flawed mortgage documents that have caused lenders including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to stop the process of foreclosures and evictions across the country. The banks said they are investigating homeowner charges like West’s that signatures were forged and documents were backdated.

“It’s not right,” said West, 40, who lives about an hour’s drive north of West Palm Beach. “It’s like lying to the judge. It’s like lying about what’s really going on.”

It was a Florida lawyer who discovered that servicers hired hairdressers and Wal-Mart clerks to be “foreclosure experts,” essentially dupes to carry out the robo-signing without questioning the process.

The depositions paint a surreal picture of foreclosure experts who didn’t understand even the most elementary aspects of the mortgage or foreclosure process — even though they were entrusted as the records custodians of homeowners’ loans. In one deposition taken in Houston, a foreclosure supervisor with Litton Loan couldn’t define basic terms like promissory note, mortgagee, lien, receiver, jurisdiction, circuit court, plaintiff’s assignor or defendant. She testified that she didn’t know why a spouse might claim interest in a property, what the required conditions were for a bank to foreclose or who the holder of the mortgage note was. “I don’t know the ins and outs of the loan, I just sign documents,” she said at one point.

As I’ve been saying repeatedly, this fraud covers up the larger problem, the lack of clear title and the confusion over whether the servicers have the legal right to foreclose on the home. Nowhere was this more obvious than Florida.

The rocket docket is starting to get rolled up now. The Florida Attorney General, Bill McCollum, continues to investigate law firms who processed much of the fraudulent foreclosures. He sought an unusual rehearing against one of the “foreclosure mills,” who were able to quash a subpoena for more information last week. One of those law firms has begun a round of layoffs. While McCollum, a Republican, actually wants the backlog of foreclosure cases resolved swiftly, he understands that it will take some time beyond 30 seconds per case to work out the details. The rocket docket is effectively on ice.

But not completely. There are still summary judgments being given by bad judges using documents proven to be false and in some cases forged. There’s a clear and compelling interest in Florida to stop this perversion of due process. Anything less than a temporary moratorium allows clear fraud to be perpetrated in broad daylight.

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David Dayen

David Dayen