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Last Chance - Stop Florida's HB 87 and ForeclosureGate II

May 17th, 2013

By Michael Collins
Florida Governor Rick Scott may have just one more day to veto Florida's big-bank friendly foreclosure act, HB 87. Nearly 1,200 Floridians have signed the Veto Florida's Foreclosure Act Petition, despite indifferent coverage by Florida's mainstream media. We would know the exact deadline required for the governor's veto if HB 87 appeared on the governor's live legislative action web page. For some reason, it's not there. (Image)

HB 87 speeds up the Florida's home foreclosure process by making it easier for banks to throw citizens out of their homes. The burden of proof is switched from the plaintiff, banks, to the defendant, homeowners. When the bill's requirements for evidence gathering to appeal an initial judgment combine with general rules for discovery, defendants have just days to put together a case. See Florida HB 87, Homeowners, and the Foreclosure Inferno for a detailed run down of just some of the major problems.

Why do Banks Want a Friendly Foreclosure Bill in Florida?

Notorious bank robber, Willie Sutton, had the answer when asked why he robbed banks: "Because that's where the money is."* Florida led the nation in completed foreclosures for April 2012 through March 2013 (CoreLogic). There were 103,000 foreclosures for this period representing 9.7% of Florida's active mortgages or 28 mortgages for each completed foreclosure. California, with twice Florida's population, had 83,000 foreclosures for the same period or 62 mortgages for each foreclosure.

The total property value of Florida's 4.2 million mortgages is $790 billion.

Florida is where the action is if you're a major mortgage lender with bad paper you should never have issued.

More Foreclosures, Faster, in a Bank Friendly State

HB 87 enhances already huge legal advantages the banks have when they move in for the kill at foreclosure time.

Palm Beach, Florida attorney Dustin A. Zacks recently outlined the bank friendly legal and regulatory climate in Florida in a Cleveland Law Review article aptly titled Robo Litigation . Meticulously documented, the article details the examples of major foreclosure attorneys, usually representing banks, as they conducted business over the last decade.

David J. Stern, the poster boy for shady foreclosure lawyers, took full advantage of the economic crisis and the exploding foreclosure market to build an immensely profitable legal practice and processing subsidiary. At its peak, the Stern firm handled 70,000 foreclosures in 2009. Clients included Citibank, Fannie Mae, and other major lenders seeking to recoup their bad investments in Florida mortgages.

Stern's list of bent practices includes robosigning, a process in which legal affidavits attesting to the truth of foreclosure documents are signed by someone other than the required signatory (e.g., a temp instead of a bank officer), with no knowledge of the contents, and submitted without notarization. A notarized, legitimate signature represents the essential foundation for bank claims to a property during a hearing in foreclosure courts.

For the non-lawyers among us, knowingly submitting false documentation to a court sounds like fraud. Few of the banks and lawyers involved have been charged with fraud when robosigning fraud became known. That's the tell that lets us know just how rigged the system is in favor of the big banks and other lenders.

In 2002, there were serious concerns about the way Stern's firm did business. As Zacks documents, the Florida Bar investigated the allegations and then allowed Stern to agree to a relatively minor violation of legal conduct. His punishment was a public reprimand. The Florida Bar "did not follow through on its original suspicions" regarding: "acts contrary to honesty and justice; collecting excessive fees; making false statements or allowing witnesses to make false statements…"

In this and other challenges to Stern's practices, the state courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, gave Stern a pass and kept him in business to achieve his crowning glory, massive robosigning resulting in the wrongful loss of homeowner properties.

By 2011, Sterns was fired by Fannie Mae, Citibank and his other big customers as the United States Congress started asking why anyone would do business with Sterns in the first place.

Finally, on April 18, 2013, after years of damage to Florida homeowners, the Florida Bar Association charged that Stern had "violated the Bar’s rules of professional conduct … that Stern failed to properly supervise lawyers and non-lawyers at his firm and failed to halt regular violations of Bar rules."

Why did the Bar Association take 11 years, 2002 to 2013, to figure out that David Stern had some very serious problems? Stern shut down his firm but he's a Florida Bar member "in good standing." What's the punishment -- grounding him for the weekend?

A clearer demonstration of the legal climate in Florida came on May 1, 2013 when a Florida District Court of Appeal reinstated a foreclosure case dismissed by a lower court judge. The foreclosure was initially handled by David Stern in 2007. When the bank fired Stern, they failed to follow Florida law to assign a new attorney to the case. The lower court judge finally had enough and dismissed the foreclosure case. But, true to form, the bank case was rescued by the appeals court despite the banks inability to follow rules.

If you think justice and equity suffer with 103,000 foreclosures a year, how about 200,000 a year in Florida? It's not that far-fetched with the new efficiencies. In March, RealtyTrac reported "the annual percent change in foreclosure starts" for selected states. New York foreclosure starts were up 200%, Maryland 194%, and Washington state 154%.

Maybe the underlying purpose of HB 87 is to close the "foreclosure gap" between Florida and the three states just mentioned. Whatever the motive, it's not for the benefit of the people and the legal system that is supposed to protect them.


This article may be reproduced with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

Governor Scott - Veto Florida's Foreclosure Act - HB 87



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