As the administrative judge for the civil circuit division, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey has a bird’s-eye perspective on the foreclosure crisis that has changed South Florida’s housing landscape.
The spike in foreclosure cases beginning in 2006 has tested the courts, prompting the creation of a task force and the allocation of extra funding to help cope with the unprecedented foreclosure load.
Bailey has lectured on the subject of foreclosures. She has testified before Florida legislative committees. And she wrote the Foreclosure Bench Book for attorneys and real estate professionals.
After sitting down for an interview with The Miami Herald, Judge Bailey responded by email to questions about the foreclosure situation.
Q. Miami-Dade is an epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. Does the 11th Circuit Court have sufficient manpower and resources to deal with the foreclosure load? How will the recent state grant help?
Miami should be proud of its judges, who shouldered the burden of an exploding foreclosure caseload. In the last typical year of 2006, there were 9,800 foreclosure cases filed. Since that time, 215,717 foreclosure cases have been filed through June 2012 — an average of nearly 40,000 per year. In just the past two and a half years, your judges have resolved over 92,000 cases.
The Eleventh Circuit’s existing manpower and resources continue to be challenged by the foreclosure load, which is currently about 60,000 cases, but the one-time state funding we received in 2010-11, and now again in 2012-13, will allow us to hire additional retired judges and case managers to assist our daily efforts to resolve these cases.
However, this special state funding does not include funding for the Clerks of Court, who handle all the paperwork, case files, and docketing of case activity. The foreclosure crisis has imposed a huge burden on the Clerks while budget cuts have forced them to cut positions or leave vacancies unfilled, leading to challenges in the handling of the court records. Q. What has happened to judges’ caseloads since the foreclosure crisis began? What has the court done to adapt to it?
Judges’ individual caseloads tripled from an average of approximately 1,900 active cases per judge, to approximately 7,000 active cases per judge during the peak of the foreclosure crisis. After a great deal of hard work on moving these cases to resolution, that number has since dropped to approximately 5,000 active cases per judge — still an extremely difficult burden to carry.
To assure access to justice, we set up a special calendar which only hears foreclosure summary judgments full-time. We have tried to keep judge’s calendars accessible for hearings in other types of cases by making sure we are still setting time for jury trials and by splitting calendars so that foreclosure cases are heard at separate times from other cases, so that the volume of foreclosure cases does not elbow out every other type of civil proceeding.
Currently we have both trial judges and senior judges trying foreclosure cases, and once the Foreclosure Project, which started July 1, gets fully running, we will be moving hundreds of foreclosure cases to trial each week. Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of judicial foreclosure compared to non-judicial foreclosure?
The judge’s job is to apply the existing law to the individual circumstances of each foreclosure case. Therefore, that question is best addressed by lender attorneys and consumer defense attorneys who have been following these proposals closely and can speak about how each system protects the parties’ rights and the pros and cons they see from the lenders’ and consumers’ perspectives. However, the significant advantage touted for non-judicial foreclosure is that it would purportedly reduce delays in foreclosure cases currently handled by the courts. Here in Miami-Dade County’s Eleventh Circuit, there has been no delay in foreclosure case hearings for nearly two years.