On The Money with Peter Hebert

November 21, 2010

The Gavel and the Damage Done

Filed under: Commentary — Peter Hebert @ 8:38 PM

The State of Florida was the nation’s number two foreclosure hot spot.The courts were backed up, understaffed, and overwhelmed. On July 1, 2010, the Florida state legislature allocated $9.6 million for special foreclosure courts to meet the demands of the banks to foreclose. Though Judge A.C. Soud retired in July 2007 after 26 and-a-half years on the bench, he was tasked to reduce the foreclosure backlog by 60 percent. The game plan was simple: review 25 foreclosure cases per hour. That is one foreclosure in less than two-and-a-half minutes in a restricted access conference room.

Under Soud’s supervision were a bunch of judges, who had been pulled out of retirement. Their better days were years behind them. The work was easy, because most of the cases were uncontested.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone described the existential absurdity of Florida’s judicial system:
Watching Judge Soud plow through each foreclosure reminds me of the scene in Fargo where the villain played by Swedish character actor Peter Stormare pushes his victim’s leg through a wood chipper with that trademark bored look on his face. Mechanized misery and brainless bureaucracy on the one hand, cash for the banks on the other.
The judge permitted the fraudulent prosecution of each MERS-related petition. Each proceeding was calculated, efficient, and delivered the final solution.

Attorney April Charney of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc. permitted Taibbi into Soud’s courtroom proceedings. Soud accused Charney of having “unprofessional conduct” concerned that Taibbi might contact a homeowner from a proceeding for an interview. Soud warned Charney that he would cite her for “possible contempt in the future.”
The exposé in Rolling Stone prompted the American Civil Liberties Union and various press and broadcasting associations to place demands on Chief Justice Charles Canady to open the courts for the public to attend. Judge Soud’s response was that he had no intention of reading Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone.Taibbi’s criticism of Soud’s conduct was that the judge never bothered to read through the mortgage cases. His job consisted of opening the file, looking at the stop watch, and slamming down the gavel—“Motion granted. Next.”
Excerpt from The Collapse of Home Prices and the Foreclosure Crisis (coming in 2011)

Peter Hebert
Author of Mortgaged And Armed, Freedom House Press, July 4, 2010
Available through Amazon.com

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