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Florida’s Rocket Docket Coming to an End

(photo: Erik Charlton)

One of the first stories to pique my curiosity in the foreclosure crisis was the Kafkaesque “rocket docket” in Florida. Individuals seeking due process in foreclosure cases were getting as little as 20 seconds in court. The special courts were set up seemingly to push along foreclosures in assembly-line fashion. I remember asking Rep. Kendrick Meek (remember him, he was the Democrat in the race against Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist) last summer about the rocket dockets and he was unaware of their existence. It was almost unbelievable when you first heard about it.

Now it appears to be a victim of budget cuts, which is good news for troubled Florida borrowers.

According to a document obtained by The Huffington Post, Palm Beach County has already started cancelling foreclosure cases. “Because of the lack of funding from the Florida legislature, judges will be unable to preside over foreclosure trials beginning July 1, 2011,” the order reads […]

“Those foreclosure courts are a joke,” says Matt Englett, a partner at the Florida law firm Kaufman Englett Lynd PLLC. “The judges just ran ’em through. And we could appeal them and win. But if you can’t afford to appeal them, you’re stuck.” Englett notes that rocket-docket judges often don’t even review documents or evidence in the cases, but simply ask a few questions before making a ruling — generally in favor of the bank. “A lot of this robo-signing — if they’re in front of a real judge, they would have to look at these things,” Englett says.

In March, Republican Governor Rick Scott approved a $14 million loan to foreclosure courts statewide that must be repaid by the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30. And the governor’s office says no additional funding will be coming on July 1. Judges are already cancelling hearings in anticipation of the funding shortage.

Actual jurisprudence rather than the assembly-line production of the rocket dockets would be welcome news indeed. I don’t necessarily think that short-changing the justice system is a good strategy for borrowers who want a resolution and who will now have to wait. The courts need to be funded. But the rocket docket most certainly does not.

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David Dayen

David Dayen