Magistrates May Euthanize Senior Judges in Foreclosure Court

by Chip Parker, Esq.

May 15, 2013

flatlineThe Supreme Court of Florida has decided that non-judge magistrates will be hearing foreclosure cases in addition to retired senior judges.  The new Amended Rule 1.490 would expand the use of general magistrates as an alternative to the use of senior judges to assist in processing foreclosure cases.  This could mercifully spell the end of senior judges in Florida, which could help restore some confidence in our judicial system.

Don’t get me wrong.  I doubt the magistrates will provide any greater level due process than the microscopic levels afforded to homeowners in the bizarro world of retired senior judges overseeing Foreclosure Court.  However, if a homeowner does not want his foreclosure case being decided by a non-judge, the homeowner may object, and there need be no legal basis for an objection.

The homeowner must act fast because the objection must be made 10 days after the Order of Referral to Magistrate is entered.  If a timely objection is filed, then the case is referred back to a judge (or retired senior judge).

I bet the vast majority of foreclosures, which are not contested, will rocket through the new magistrate system, while homeowners wanting to fight their foreclosure will continue to do so in “regular” foreclosure court (There is really nothing “regular” about foreclosure court).  This would mean that the number of cases “lingering” in the “regular” system will be down dramatically.  With those numbers down, it will become difficult to justify the continued use of unnecessary senior judges.

This is possibly a dream come true for homeowners, but there’s a catch.  The chief judge of the individual judicial circuits can decide whether to implement the use of magistrates.  Being a judge is like being in a fraternity, and they like to protect their own – even those judges they do not like.  So, there is a strong possibility that Chief Judges of the individual judicial circuits will reject the use of magistrates because they are not “in the frat.”

How lucrative is it to be a senior judge hearing foreclosure cases in Florida’s courts?  So lucrative, that these retired judges will do just about anything to keep the money flowing.

According to the Office of the State Courts Administrator in Tallahassee, $305,724 has been allocated to the retired senior judges running the Foreclosure Division in Jacksonville alone, and they are each paid, in addition to their retirement pay, $355.08 per day (this is comparable with senior judges throughout the state).

In Jacksonville, the senior judges were contacted by the OSCA, who threatened to stop the gravy train on July 1st if Jacksonville did not significantly reduce the number of active foreclosure cases.  So, the Jacksonville senior judges began scheduling 3800 foreclosure cases for trial last month, setting 120 cases per day for trial proceeding simultaneously in two courts.  This allocates 8 minutes per trial, which by anyone’s estimation, is a complete obliteration of a homeowner’s due process rights.  One really needs to see it to believe it.

So, while magistrates could spell the end of senior judges, these retirees will surely not go away without a fight.

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Chip Parker is the managing partner of Parker & DuFresne, P.A., where he represents Northeast Florida businesses and consumers facing bankruptcy, and homeowners facing foreclosure. His firm files more homeowners in the Mortgage Modification Mediation Program than any other law firm in Northeast Florida. Parker is the recipient of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid's prestigious Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service. Mr. Parker is an active member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Last modified: May 15, 2013