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Hillsborough County courts push to clear old foreclosure cases

TAMPA — With a $427,504 boost from the state, Hillsborough County courts will try during the next fiscal year to clear more than 23,000 backlogged mortgage foreclosure cases off the dockets.

The effort is part of a statewide push to get foreclosed properties processed. Florida has nearly 560,000 such cases pending.

"We want to dispose of the cases, get the properties back on the market and hopefully stimulate the economy as a result," Hillsborough court administrator Mike Bridenback said.

Florida's courts received a one-time allocation of $6 million, and the state's clerks of court got $3.6 million, to target the logjam.

Economic recovery wasn't the only consideration in seeking additional resources, court officials said. The filing fees for foreclosure cases increased significantly last year, jumping from $295 to a range of $395 to $1,900. So it seemed fair to use some of that to get the system moving more efficiently, said state courts administrator Lisa Goodner.

Lenders "are paying more, and we want to give them a timely disposition of their cases," she said.

The goal is to eliminate nearly two-thirds of the backlog over 12 months starting July 1.

Each circuit is designing its own model. In Hillsborough, where it takes anywhere from nine months to two years for foreclosures to move through the courts, the plan is to have all such cases heard exclusively by senior judges rotating between two full-time positions.

Right now, the cases are spread among 10 general civil divisions.

Court officials expect to hire four cases managers and two secretaries to assist with the effort. The clerk's office, which received $254,000, may hire additional personnel as well.

Hillsborough and the Pinellas-Pasco circuit each have about 34,000 pending mortgage foreclosure cases.

"Even the new cases will go to the senior judges," Bridenback said. "However, our intent is to address the old cases first."

Pinellas and Pasco court officials are still sorting out how they will use their $317,752 allocation, courts spokesman Ron Stuart said Wednesday.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Hillsborough County courts push to clear old foreclosure cases 06/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 9:18pm]

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