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Florida's foreclosure courts get harsh look

Should we be surprised that the Rolling Stone writer who called Goldman Sachs the "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" would find judges rubber-stamping foreclosures no less evil?

Rolling Stone hit newsstands Friday with an expose of Jacksonville's "rocket docket" courts. These slam-bam courts were concocted not with legal fairness in mind but to expedite thousands of home foreclosures — too many of them poorly or fraudulently documented — sought by lenders against Floridians behind on their mortgages.

The story by Matt Taibbi is kind neither to the court and its judges nor the attorneys and their client banks. The story's headline is a giveaway: Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners. Here's one memorable excerpt:

"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."

It's a familiar theme of Taibbi's also found in his new book: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. In it, Taibbi argues our cash-strapped nation is selling off its highways, ports and even parking meters at fire sale prices to eager buyers in the unregulated sovereign wealth funds of oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.

It isn't news that Florida's "rocket dockets" too often are judicial shams. This newspaper and others seemingly fill their pages with foreclosure-nightmare-du-jour stories about overwhelmed "robo-signing" bank employees who scribble signatures on thousands of foreclosure papers they never read, or "foreclosure mill" law firms whose mass production efficiencies (aided by fabricating documents, investigators say) would make Henry Ford jealous.

Rolling Stone's story is also a jab at Florida's own state of mind. This is a state that fell hard into a recession and still is drowning in borrowers who can't pay their mortgages. The result? In the foreclosure world, the Sunshine State's become too eager to skip over the messy stuff like individual property rights so it can hurry toward Florida's next big boom. If one exists.

Taibbi's criticism of the blinders adopted by Jacksonville courts could apply just as easily to Florida:

"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," he writes. "Selling lead as gold, s--- as Chanel No. 5, was the essence of the booming international fraud scheme that created most all of these now-failing home mortgages."

Taibbi's layered take is not popular with Florida's mainstream economic powers keen on resurrecting the Florida dream machine.

As the Rolling Stone piece concludes, most of us (except those facing foreclosure) want to buy banks' handy argument that this is all just about people failing to pay their debts.

Right. And those rocket dockets are just the latest icons of America's greatness.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Florida's foreclosure courts get harsh look 11/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 12, 2010 10:18pm]
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