Lee County, Fla., has become infamous for the speed at which foreclosure cases zoom through its courts. The supercharged "rocket docket" system can dispense with a foreclosure case in minutes, and sometimes in mere seconds. In the interest of speed, the courts have even refused requests for delays from foreclosing banks that want to get their papers in order, and they've exempted banks from rules that apply to others.

Earlier this month, for example, Lee County Judge James Thompson denied a bank's request to delay a foreclosure so it could try to complete a short sale under the government's Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program. A HAFA short sale was presumably in the bank's interest, which is why it requested the delay, and it certainly was in the homeowner's interest because the program would protect the homeowner from having to pay the roughly $200,000 difference between the mortgage and the short-sale price. Whose interests did Judge Thompson's order serve?

Florida's rocket docket has been suggested as a reason why so many banks are now voluntarily dismissing Florida foreclosure cases: The banks just aren't ready to go forward. Those voluntary dismissals have two negative consequences for the banks, so they surely wouldn't undertake them lightly. The first is that the banks will have to pay new filing fees, some $2,000 per case. (The banks can recoup the costs from the proceeds of an eventual foreclosure sale.) The second is that banks can do a voluntary dismissal only once. If they file again and have to dismiss the case for some reason, it will be with prejudice.

DailyFinance spoke with Charlie Green, the clerk of the Lee County Courts, who says the rocket docket was his idea. Here's what he has to say about the docket and its ramifications:

DailyFinance: Why did Lee County start the rocket docket?

Green: When we came up with the expedited docket to try to reduce our inventory, we had properties that were sitting out there for a year or two with nothing happening. We can't have all that inventory around, it hurts the economy and everyone.

Look, I have great sympathy for some of these homeowners, but you have to understand the first wave of foreclosures were all speculators, investors who had two or three properties they were looking to flip, the properties were empty.

Let me give you an example of what was going on here in '04 and '05. I have a friend who is a real estate broker, and he closed on a vacant lot and he paid like $12,500. The day he closed at the title company, he stuck a For Sale sign on the lot. By the time he got back to his office -- a half-hour away -- he had 10 or so phone calls about the lot. He sold shortly thereafter for $28 grand. That's the kind of fever we had going on in '04 and '05. And that was the first wave of foreclosures.

Now the people being foreclosed are people who've lost their jobs. And we're very sympathetic to them and hope the banks are working with them because we all know that at some point these people are going to have jobs again. And there's lots of people who can make partial payments.

There have been reports of large numbers of cases being voluntarily dismissed by banks because the banks aren't ready. What purpose does it serve for the judge to move cases forward in these cases?
Well, for starters, despite the reports, the numbers aren't up dramatically. January's had 785 dismissals through last Monday, but last August we had 1,186 dismissals.

As to the purpose of moving cases forward when the banks aren't ready, I can't speak for the judges. From my perspective, all our judges are responsible people, and they're trying to do the right thing. If the plaintiffs aren't ready, it's because they didn't get on the ball a year ago and have sat on their thumbs. And that poor homeowner has been living in his house for free for two years, and no one has been forced out -- and his neighbor is making his payments. Is that fair?

The banks are going to come back and refile. They can't afford to let their stockholders down, that's what I think. We have good judges, they do the right thing. Nobody was ready for the tsunami that came through a couple of years ago. Instead of saying we're not ready, and gearing up, maybe the plaintiffs' attorneys just started pushing stuff out the door. [Stats through that link include dismissals in "disposed" category.]

What do you say to concerns that the rocket docket not only affects due process rights, but perhaps even more problematically for all Floridians, the rocket docket may be creating title problems. That is, in Lee County, as everywhere else in the country, banks are having a hard time proving they have the right to foreclose. If they foreclose without the right to do so, there's an issue with the title to the property. And the way foreclosures move in Lee County, it's hard to make sure the bank has the papers right.
That's a pile of junk. It doesn't wash. Here's why: The attorneys who represent the lenders have stepped forward and filed the petition to foreclosure.

At that point they've put themselves in the position of responsibility to be sure they do have the right to foreclose. They're saying to the court, "we have the right." The judge doesn't know if the documents are bogus or not. The judge is looking at these documents bringing the foreclosure and showing what's transpired, and the judge has every right to take them at face value.

There was no opposition raised by folks until about a year ago. Maybe 1 in 100 would step forward. What we've seen in the last year is a lot of people stepping forward and trying to make a deal. And that's good because we don't want people to lose their houses.

But what's woven into this in the last year or so is a false sense of hope by some homeowners that they're going to be able to stay in their houses because of some technical glitch. This whole thing has its own dynamics.

You say the judge has the right to take the papers at face value and, initially, that's surely true. But what about after issues have been raised with the papers? And you say it's a "technical glitch," but standing issues create title problems, and that's not just a technical glitch.
That's right, it's a huge problem. Look, in the 1920s Florida had a land rush that ended up messing up many titles, so much that the legislature passed a law saying from here on out you can rely on the titles. We may have to do something like that again. Government should be able to come in and fix this problem.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Economics 101

Intro to economics. But fun.

View Course »

What is Inflation?

Why do prices go up?

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

6 Comments

Filter by:
seeker4179

HE'S DIFINATELY WRONG-- HE SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM OFFICE ! HE HAS TAKEN SIDES WITH HIMSELF- HE SUPPOSE TO REMAIN NEUTRAL-INSTEAD HE HAS LAID HIS OWN PERSON
JUDGEMENT ON THE PEOPLE AND THE BANKS - JUDGES ARE SUPPOSE TO REPRESENT ALL THE PEOPLE AND NOT JUST TO SPEED THE DOCKET UP. THERE IS SUPPOSELY A NEUTALITY IN THE COURT SYSTEM! THE WORD JUDGE ITSELF SAYS -PRESENT THE FACTS AND I WILL MAKE A DECISION! IF A KILLER PRESENT A WRITTEN DOCUMENT SAYING I'M INNOCENT WOULD THE JUDGE TAKE IT ON FACE VALUE?. THIS MAN HAS OVERSTEPPED HIS PLACE AS CLERK, HE ONLY WANTS THE COURT TO ACT IN BELIEFS AND IT SHOWS WITHIN HIS STATEMENTS, THIS MAN HAS BEEN IN THIS POSITION TO LONG, BECAUSE OF THE VALUES HE PLACES ON HIS OUTLOOK AGAIN
THERE ARE LAWS IN THE COURTS AND THE SYSTEM TO PROTECT BOTH PARTIES - YOU ARE A TOTAL DISGRACE IN THE MANNER IN WHICH YOU REPRESENT THE LAW --AS YOU CAN SEE YOU IDEAS ARE GARBBAGE BECAUSE YOU DON'T REPRESENT FAIRNESS OR FOLLOW THE LAWS, YOU ARE THE CAUSE OF THE BACKLASH BECAUSE YOUR VIEWS ARE MYOPIC AND AGAIN YOU SHOULD
BE REMOVED FROM THAT POSITION BECAUSE YOUR IDEAS ARE IN CONFLICT WITH IDEALS AND RULES SUPPOSE IN PLACE IN A COURT SYSTEM,YOU HAVE SET YOURSELF UP AS JUGDE AND JURY, THEEREFORE YOU SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM THE POSITION YOU HOLD--YOU ARE NO LONGER IMPARTIAL BUT SEE YOURSELF AS KING OF LEGAL RIGHT AND IMPOSE YOUR OWN RULES.
AS FOR THE JUDGES ITS A SAD DAY WHEN THEY DECIDE TO TURN THEIR HEAD AWAY FROM THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED TO THEM, JUST TO SPED UP THE SYSTEM, AS YOU CAN SEE THE BURDEN OF TNE BEAST HAS RETURN! FOR INSTANCE ROBO SIGNING, NO STANDING BY BANKS, FOR FORECLOSUES, NO PROMISSORY NOTE AS EVIDENCE AS OWNERSHIP, YES YOUR IDEA WAS SO GREAT FOR WHO?. PEOPLE WHO BOUGHT FORECLOSURES AND SHORT SALES ARE NOW TOLD THAT THAT THE BANKS HAD NO STANDING IN THE PROPERTY , THEREFORE COULD NOT SELL THE PROPERTY IN THE FIRST PLACE, WHAT ABOUT THESE PEOPLE ? MISTER WONDERFUL, BUYING PROPERTY IN BLANK NICE DEAL-- IT AMAZES ME HOW PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE SUPPOSE TO HELP PEOPLE, EITHER PLAINTIFF OR DEFEND BUT HAD SET ASIDE THEIRS RIGHTS, SO YOUR LITTLE KINGDOM REMAINS FREE OF TRUTHS, YES AS LONG AS THE WHEEL IS GREASED AND MOVES FOREWORD IN YOUR IDEAL WORLD,THE HELL WITH EVERYONE ELSE. I BET ANYONE IS AFRAID OF YOUR POWER AND EVILNESS AND DOES NOT OPPOSE YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE KING THERE!.
YOU DON'T REPRESENT FREE PEOPLE AND THE AMERICAN BUT LIVE WITHIN YOUR OWN WORLD AND ARE IMPOSING YOURSELF ON THE RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES OF THE AMERICAN SYSTEM
YOU SHOULD BE TERMINATE AND THE JUDGES RE-EVALUATED FOR THEIR PART IN DISGRACE OF REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE.

January 28 2011 at 9:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
stegerjoyce

The money that you save by refinancing every month can be sensibly used to repay your unique loan or to upsurge your savings. Do not forget to search online for "123 Mortgage Refinance" they found 3.17% rate for me.

January 28 2011 at 2:19 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jkennedy806

And another thing, since when am I beholdin to an unknown investor. I am the only investor in my property. Where was this investor when the insurance needed to be paid, or the garbage bill needed to be paid, how about when the septic needed to be pumped. I needed a new hot water heater, where was this chump?
How is it I am struggling to build equity in my investment, and this unknown gets all the glory and I get the shaft. I don't think so.

January 27 2011 at 1:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jkennedy806's comment
Wayne

One of the best of "Simple Point's" I must say! I had the same thought when it came to a loan modifican .... Where or Who is he. It might even be "They".

January 27 2011 at 6:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jkennedy806

Bottom Line, the fiscal committee yesterday said, that it was the banks fault that the melt down occurred. Okay. It melted down, cause the banksters were greedy and did loan swaps. Speculating the housing market will continue making money notes were flipped and bundled and sold over and over. I have asked my bank 2 times now to see my note. By law, I do not have to pay them, if they can not produce the contractual agreement. But you see, the new owner, Bank doesn't have their signature on the loan. This is where the banks really screwed up. Loan modifications were suppose to re-do all this faulty paperwork, and the banks poo phooed them. Now the banksters have faulty paperwork. The title is in my name. In fact, the new banks name is no where on the title insurance at all.
I have received rocket dockets and now a month ago I received a rubber stamped default judgement. A rubber stamp. Please. I called my Fed. Congressman who got no place fast with Barney at the OCC (cause barney frank is in bed with the banksters) and a copy was sent to the Attorney General. Until the government steps up the plate and starts arresting and jailing and fixing this problem the real estate market will never recover. If this government continues to let clouded titles jeopardize the recovery, nothing will ever get back to a good foundation. It will continue to crumble and fall, until it's is fixed to the consumers satistaction not the Banksters.

January 27 2011 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Consiglieri

I am impressed that this author has actually offered another view on the foreclosure process? Perhaps the wintry wonderland in Shelter Island has mellowed her?

Look - rules are rules and they should be followed. But we are facing something that we've never encountered before. And the faster we process the logjam the faster the market will have a chance to recover.

The vast majority of these cases are totally uncontested - either speculators that have no intention of keeping up payments in a market where their investment is likely to take years to get back to even, or homeowners that either sucked all of the equity out of their homes and spent it living beyond their actual means or just plain old borrowed and bought more than they could afford....

The government has and should continue to explore relief for homeowners that want to try to live up to their obligations but especially temporarily, may not be able to. They should also consider keeping people in their homes if the situation is right and the people can pay some fair rent.

No doubt - the sooner we get folks back to work, the sooner this problem will thankfully ease....

But for those that played real estate like a game and lost, their is no reason to dawdle.... and its good to see somewhere that gets it....

January 27 2011 at 1:04 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply