Broward’s Foreclosure Division Needs Senior Judges
Written by Emil Fleysher | December 14, 2015 | Foreclosure
Broward County’s foreclosure division is going to need all the help it can get in the next few months to keep its head above water. After several layoffs, harsh budget cuts, and the county taking a huge hit during the collapse of the housing market, it is going to take nothing short of a miracle for the thousands of foreclosure cases to work through the already clogged dockets. The foreclosure division has taken yet another hit after state legislators were unsuccessful in renewing the funds to pay senior judges. However, in spring Broward Circuit Chief Judge Peter Weinstein will present a plan to circuits less affected by the housing crisis to borrow from their allocation of senior-judge days.
Although the majority of the cases last hours, some take up entire mornings or afternoons, thus continuing to hinder the already overloaded division and its judges. The worst might be over, but the fallout from the market crash continues to plague the Broward court system. The court’s 11th Division handles foreclosure cases from 2011 to present date had 6,023 pending cases during September. That same month, it had 363 new filings, reopened 955, but only disposed of 774. “We’re doing what we can, but it’s a big caseload,” Weinstein said.
Broward Circuit Court still receives hundreds of new filings each month since the housing bubble imploded eight years ago. The 363 new filings during September was the second lowest number of foreclosure filings in the last yet, January’s 350 new suits being the first. This is a much lighter caseload in comparison to the first three months of 2013, where the enormous caseload was in the upward of 40,000 pending foreclosure. After resolving tens of thousands of pending law suits, October 2014 saw a significant smaller backlog, with 543 new filings, 1,100 reopened cases, disposed of 1,584 and left about 13,100 still making its way through the clog. But clearing up the backlog, in combination with lower new filings had its pros and cons.
In September, the Clerks of Court Operations Corp., which certifies the proposed budget for the state’s 67 clerks, estimated a $24 million statewide cut. The group relies on a state trust fund that during a time was flushed with court fees and costs at the height of the foreclosure crisis that legislators diverted a portion of that revenue to cover other expenses. But as foreclosures faded, clerks said not enough money entered or remained in the till. It meant a reduced budget of $444 million for Florida’s clerks and a 5 percent statewide budget cut. Broward County had a $2 million reduction from a $40 million budget which meant a hiring freeze, on unpaid furlough day every month through October and cutting operation hours to the public from 4pm to 3:30 pm. The office also had to lay off 17 employees and lost another 14 more to resignations.
All of South Florida was affected by the budget cuts. Miami lost $3.45 million of its $69 million budget and 130 employees, and Palm Beach County struggled with the $2.6 million shortfall. As we all know, South Florida was one of the regions hit the hardest by the housing collapse. What normally would be 13 case managers and two employees doing case management work to assist in speed litigation, Broward was left with just four staffers. The court took yet another blow as it had hiring General Magistrate Lisa Dolin Eiss in 2013 as a full-time foreclosure magistrate, but was forced to eradicate her position due to budget cuts. Then in October, as part of the fallout from her arrest for driving under the influence, Broward Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal stepped down from the bench, leaving a courthouse vacancy unlikely to be filled before January.
Court spokeswoman Meredith Bush state that without the special foreclosure funding, the circuit will need to draw from the general annual allotment of senior judge days to handle foreclosures. The changes leave one full-time senior judge assigned to the foreclosure division, and three senior judges working on rotation to cover two part-time shifts. “We’re doing everything we can to keep the foreclosure division functioning. …. We’re doing the best we can, and I think doing a pretty good job of keeping everything going,” Weinstein said. “It’s quite a job.”
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