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Florida Legislators Pull Funding for Foreclosure Courts

The already clogged foreclosure system in Florida could come to a near standstill this summer after state legislators voted not to extend a special round of funding approved last year to bring in additional case managers and judges to help clear the backlog of foreclosure cases.

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After much lobbying from the ""Office of the State Courts Administrator"":http://www.flcourts.org/ last year, lawmakers awarded $6 million to the state court system to increase personnel and resources for handling foreclosure actions.

It was a one-time allocation, and that line item didn't make it into the budget for the new fiscal year, which for the state and the courts begins in July.

The money helped to fund the so-called ""rocket dockets"" in certain jurisdictions. These courts have been highly criticized by consumer advocacy groups who say they ignore procedural safeguards in order to rush through foreclosures and deny homeowners the opportunity to present a defense.

According to the local paper, the _Palm Beach Post_, since June 2010, these courts have whittled the state's backlog â€" which stood at 462,339 cases at that time â€" by just

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139,615 cases, leaving more than 322,700 pending foreclosures still stuck in the system and likely to remain there as the courts lose funding.

The Circuit Court in Palm Beach County has already started cancelling scheduled foreclosure hearings. Judge John Hoy issued a court order last week which said, ""Because of the lack of funding by the Florida Legislature, judges are unavailable to preside over foreclosure trials beginning July 1, 2011.""

Craig Waters, a spokesperson for the Office of the State Courts Administrator, says there was never any expectation that the one-time funding would be renewed, especially in light of Florida’s severe budget shortfall.

“Foreclosure cases will continue to be heard in the Florida state courts just as they were before the 2010-11 fiscal year,” which benefited from the extra $6 million in funding, Waters said.

After robo-signing delays and the institution of a ""statewide pre-foreclosure mediation program"":http://dsnews.comarticles/florida-supreme-court-orders-pre-foreclosure-mediations-2010-01-05 that gives court mediators 120 days from the filing of a foreclosure to schedule a mediation session, ""RealtyTrac"":http://www.realtytrac.com reports that Florida’s foreclosure timeline has continued to lengthen, even with the additional resources and judges hired.

The tracking firm says the full foreclosure process in Florida took an average of 619 days during the first quarter of this year. That’s up from 470 days in the first quarter of 2010, just before the special funding was allocated, and nearly four times the average of 169 days it took in the first quarter of 2007.

Local market participants are concerned that any additional delays caused by the funding cuts for the upcoming fiscal year will mean that homes sit vacant longer, further contributing to neighborhood blight and weighing on already depressed property values.

About Author: Carrie Bay

Carrie Bay is a freelance writer for DS News and its sister publication MReport. She served as online editor for DSNews.com from 2008 through 2011. Prior to joining DS News and the Five Star organization, she managed public relations, marketing, and media relations initiatives for several B2B companies in the financial services, technology, and telecommunications industries. She also wrote for retail and nonprofit organizations upon graduating from Texas A&M University with degrees in journalism and English.
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