Rolling Stone story on Jacksonville's 'rocket docket' court skewers judges, banks and Florida
Wake up and good morning. What's this? After Florida was tagged as the Idiot State ten years ago for its hanging chad fiasco and the resulting chaos of choosing the next president, here is the Sunshine State emerging anew in Idiot State II.
After hundreds of stories detailing pieces of the home mortgage foreclosure debacle (like these gems just this week (here and here) in the St. Petersburg Times) -- banks and their law firms foreclosing on homes with out proper paper work and too often with the blessing of Florida's whatever-banks-want courts -- Florida has hit the big time. Again.
This time it's a whopper story -- out on newsstands today -- in the Nov. 25 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Reporter Matt Taibbi spent way too much time, it seems, in Jacksonville's "rocket docket" courts where judges rubber stamped home foreclosures at a furious pace. The story eviscerates the judges, the banks and, yes once again, the State of Florida for letting things get so out of hand. The headline seems blunt enough: Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners.
This is the same reporter whose book on the financial crisis -- “Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America” (here's an excerpt) -- came out last week. And this is the same magazine, you may recall. whose story of a loose-tongued Gen. Stanley McChrystal, President Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, later spurred the president to accept the general's resignation.
Taibbi's Florida foreclosure piece focuses heavily on Jacksonville's Senior Circuit Judge A.C. Soud, the retired judge in charge of the 4th Circuit’s foreclosure court that the magazine considers utterly clueless. The story also rips Mark Kessler, who is in the 4th Circuit foreclosure court almost daily representing lenders. Here's the Jacksonville paper, the Florida Times Union, reporting today on its hometown notoriety.
Taibbi's a colorful writer and the Rolling Stone piece is at the least a rollicking tale of courts run wild sucking up to big banks at the expense of people squeezed out of their homes. Here are a few excerpts:
First, on Jacksonville's rocket docket: "Their stated mission isn't to decide right and wrong, but to clear cases and blast human beings out of their homes with ultimate velocity. They certainly have no incentive to penetrate the profound criminal mysteries of the great American mortgage bubble of the 2000s, perhaps the most complex Ponzi scheme in human history — an epic mountain range of corporate fraud in which Wall Street megabanks conspired first to collect huge numbers of subprime mortgages, then to unload them on unsuspecting third parties like pensions, trade unions and insurance companies (and, ultimately, you and me, as taxpayers) in the guise of AAA-rated investments. Selling lead as gold, sh-- as Chanel No. 5, was the essence of the booming international fraud scheme that created most all of these now-failing home mortgages."
Second, on the rocket docket judges: "The judges, in fact, openly admit that their primary mission is not justice but speed. One Jacksonville judge, the Honorable A.C. Soud, even told a local newspaper that his goal is to resolve 25 cases per hour. Given the way the system is rigged, that means His Honor could well be throwing one ass on the street every 2.4 minutes."
Third, on Florida and the court's dislike of public scrutiny: " F***-up as everyone knows the state of Florida is, it couldn't be that bad. It isn't Indonesia. Right? Well, not quite. When I went to sit in on Judge Soud's courtroom in downtown Jacksonville, I was treated to an intimate, and at times breathtaking, education in the horror of the foreclosure crisis, which is rapidly emerging as the even scarier sequel to the financial meltdown of 2008: Invasion of the Home Snatchers II."
And fourth and most penetrating, on the ludicrous scale of what's happening and our society's inability to grasp what's happening: "You've heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud. Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe. The underlying crime is so pervasive, we simply can't admit to it — and so we are working feverishly to rubber-stamp the problem away, in sordid little backrooms in cities like Jacksonville, behind doors that shouldn't be, but often are, closed.
(It continues): "And that's just the economic side of the story. The moral angle to the foreclosure crisis — and, of course, in capitalism we're not supposed to be concerned with the moral stuff, but let's mention it anyway — shows a culture that is slowly giving in to a futuristic nightmare ideology of computerized greed and unchecked financial violence. The monster in the foreclosure crisis has no face and no brain. The mortgages that are being foreclosed upon have no real owners. The lawyers bringing the cases to evict the humans have no real clients. It is complete and absolute legal and economic chaos. No single limb of this vast man- eating thing knows what the other is doing, which makes it nearly impossible to combat — and scary as hell to watch."
Read the entire, compelling article here. It's classic muckraking journalism at its best. We don't have much of that left to read any more.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist