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Widespread use of senior judges questioned | Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA — The presiding judge in courtroom 510 in the George Edgecomb Courthouse retired eight years ago.

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Yet on a recent Wednesday morning, the Honorable Sandra Taylor — a black robe draping her shoulders — was busy working her $350-a-day part-time job.

Unlike most of the other judges in the 13th Judicial Circuit, Taylor was never elected to the bench in Hillsborough County, nor was she appointed by the governor. In fact, she doesn’t even live here.

Taylor, 67, is a senior judge. Retired judges like her are called in to hear cases in the absence of a regular judge. In essence, they are the substitute teachers of the state court system.

Senior judges are nothing new. But in recent years, courts have relied on them more and more, especially in dealing with the massive backlog of foreclosure cases resulting from the 2008 housing crisis.

That has raised some eyebrows, especially among foreclosure defense lawyers.

One of them, Matt Weidner of St. Petersburg, recently challenged the practice before the state Supreme Court.

“This is a constitutional question,” Weidner said. “This transcends foreclosures.”

• • •

Florida has 209 senior judges. In the last year, 15 of them worked in Hillsborough. The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court grants their senior status following an application process.

Among the requirements: They must not have been defeated for re-election or failed to win a merit retention vote in their last judicial office before retirement. Once approved, the Supreme Court allows them to serve as judges anywhere in the state.

Florida’s constitution permits the assignment of retired judges as they are needed. But it specifies that such assignments are supposed to be temporary.

That is part of what irks Weid-ner, who has made the senior judge issue something of a personal crusade. Weidner argued that their assignments in foreclosure divisions are not temporary.

In April, he filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court.

“Surely this court must recognize,” he wrote, “that the Florida Constitution does not contemplate, and in fact it expressly forbids, the permanent maintenance of a corps of ‘super’ senior judges, who sit entirely immune from the constitutional restrictions that every other judge in this state complies with.”

Weidner noted, among other things, the constitutional requirement that judges live “in the territorial jurisdiction of the court” and the prohibition of judges continuing to serve beyond age 70.

A state committee that reviewed senior judge practices in 2002 justified both of these practices. They wrote that since senior judges are accountable to the Supreme Court’s chief justice, they should be able to serve statewide. They also recommended periodic reviews of senior judges to ensure they are still fit to serve.

Eight weeks after Weidner’s petition, the court dismissed it. But he hasn’t given up the cause. He sees the frequent use of senior judges as a symptom of the greater problem of an underfunded judiciary.

“I think there is a significant group of people that think at least some of the senior judges are problematic,” said Tom Hall, a former clerk of the Florida Supreme Court. “My own opinion is the use of senior judges is necessary. The Legislature has, despite numerous requests to fund new courts, kept turning that down.”

In a 2003 opinion, the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the senior judge system. The justices noted the cost effectiveness and efficiency senior judges provide.

But in a partial dissent, Justice R. Fred Lewis noted that some circuits had essentially created permanent senior judge divisions.

“In reaching its decision, the majority must engage in a ‘judicial wink’ as it considers the true definition of ‘temporary,’ ” he wrote.

• • •

Taylor, 67, had a long legal career in Monroe County. She was the chief judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit, which covers the Florida Keys, when she retired in 2008. Shortly thereafter came the foreclosure crisis.

Taylor’s husband, a real estate agent, was caught in the middle of the turmoil. She said it became important for her to find new work.

She found it in, among other places, St. Augustine (where she now lives), Daytona Beach, Sarasota and Tampa.

Taylor grew up in Tampa. She is a graduate of Chamberlain High School. Through her judicial colleagues, she obtained a semi-regular schedule in Hillsborough’s foreclosure division.

“Tampa has historically made it very easy for me to do it,” she said.

Unlike other out-of-county judges, Taylor does not request reimbursement for travel expenses. About once a month, she makes the trek from St. Augustine. She stays in her RV, which she keeps in east Tampa. Downtown, she has a small judicial chamber, with personal pictures on the walls and a small window near the ceiling.

“Considering the type of work we’re assigned, the people that work here are so helpful,” she said. “They make me feel welcome.”

• • •

Senior judges make $350 a day. On an annual basis, that adds up to significantly less than the $146,079 that circuit judges make or the $138,019 that county judges make.

In Hillsborough, they are called in to work in various civil and criminal divisions. Some work more than others. But no one works quite as much as Taylor and Senior Judge Perry Little, who retired from Hillsborough in 2006.

Both share the older foreclosure cases. According to court administrative records, from September 2015 to August 2016, Taylor worked 108 days; Little worked 118.

Judges retired from other nearby counties also fill vacancies from time to time.

Judge Robert Beach, 86, who retired in 1993 from the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit, logged 11 days in Hillsborough between September 2015 and August 2016.

J. Rogers Padgett, who retired from Hillsborough in 2008, worked 64 days in criminal and civil divisions between September 2015 and August 2016.

Padgett, 78, said senior judging is a way of keeping a hand in the local legal community.

“If you are a good judge and you’re called to handle someone’s division, then you’ll do it the way you always did it and nobody will complain about it,” Padgett said.

“I’ve never heard anybody else complain except Mr. Weidner in St. Pete,” he said. “It’s really much ado about nothing.”

Whether that’s true is something that Weidner is sure to keep debating. Mark Stopa, a Tampa foreclosure defense lawyer, noted that the Legislature recently stopped allocating money for senior judges to handle foreclosures now that the backlog has been reduced.

In Hillsborough, which is disbanding its main foreclosure division, senior judges will still handle the older cases, said Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta. He noted that the last time the Legislature approved new trial court judges was in 2006. Senior judges help carry the burgeoning case load, he said.

“(They) are a valuable resource,” Ficarrotta said. “Quite frankly, we would be very hard-pressed without putting them to work.”

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Article source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/widespread-use-of-senior-judges-in-foreclosure-cases-questioned/2300416

‘Foreclosure King’ offers advice for nuisance homes in Hamilton

“We have a great relationship with the city of Hamilton, and have had support from the city of Hamilton in construction of new homes,” Lee said. “We’re always looking for more property to acquire, where we can build more, or rehab. And so we’ve looked for rehab property in the city of Hamilton that would be right for Habitat,” particularly around the area of Buckeye and 10th streets, “where we have built seven new homes, to continue to extend out in the neighborhood, to continue the revitalization effort.”

Article source: http://www.journal-news.com/news/local/foreclosure-king-offers-advice-nuisance-homes-hamilton/Nr4lg5TxdHOLdqrAO3m6RP/

Woman Gets 12 Days In Jail For Running Mortgage Fraud Scheme …

ROSEVILLE (WWJ) – A 35-year-old woman who authorities ran a  mortgage fraud scam across Oakland and Macomb counties has been sentenced to less than two weeks in jail.

The Michigan Attorney General’s office on Friday said Asima Khan, of Roseville, was sentenced on a charge of felony larceny $1,000 – $20,000 to 12 days in jail, followed by five years probation. Khan was also ordered to pay $60,387.24 in restitution to her victims.

The Department of Attorney General’s Corporate Oversight Division began an investigation into Khan and her company, Financial Independent Services, after receiving multiple complaints from victims in this case in 2015.

The state says Khan and her company promised mortgage modifications and debt consolidation to her clients. However, she collected money for the services in advance in violation of Michigan law and did not provide the promised modifications or debt reduction.

Khan’s company ceased operation in early 2014.

Foreclosure and Credit Assistance

Since the home mortgage foreclosure crisis, many unscrupulous businesses have taken advantage of consumers with false promises to help consumers keep their homes. Scam artists prey on the vulnerability of desperate homeowners in order to collect handsome fees — but don’t deliver any of the promised services. Many of these shady operations engage in high-pressure sales tactics and demand substantial fees in advance.

If you are behind on your mortgage payments and facing foreclosure, watch out for fraudulent foreclosure consultants who target distressed homeowners. The following tips can help you avoid being scammed.

RED FLAGS – Avoid working with anyone who does any of the following:
• Guarantees to stop the foreclosure process – no matter what the circumstances.
• Instructs you not to contact your lender, your lawyer, or a credit or housing counselor.
• Collects a fee up front before completing all services. This practice may be illegal in many circumstances in Michigan under the Credit Services Protection Act.
• Encourages you to lease or rent your home so you can buy it back over time.
• Tells you to make your mortgage payments directly to them, rather than to your lender.
• Tells you to transfer your property deed or title to them.
• Offers to fill out paperwork for you.
• Pressures you to sign paperwork that you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand.

What You Can Do To Avoid Being a Victim:
1. DON’T sign any documents without reading and understanding them first.
2. DON’T transfer title or sell your home to the foreclosure rescuer.
3. DON’T pay money to a foreclosure rescuer before any work has been done.
4. DON’T ignore letters from your lender/loan servicer. Your loan servicer is the company that processes your mortgage payments. (Sometimes the company you borrowed money from will continue to service the loan, but often the company that you borrowed the money from and the company you make your loan payments to are different). You should contact your lender/loan servicer if you are having trouble making your payments on time. Many will work with homeowners who are behind on their payments to help them avoid foreclosure.
5. DON’T pay your mortgage payments to someone other than your lender/loan servicer, even if that person promise to pass the payment on to the lender/loan servicer.
6. DO contact HUD at 800-569-4287 or the Michigan State Housing Development Authority at for a referral to a housing counselor near you.

Article source: http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2016/10/29/woman-gets-12-days-in-jail-for-running-mortgage-fraud-scheme/

EDITORIAL: Sandy victims need foreclosure protection – Daily Record

What remains remarkable, and tragic, about the ways in which Hurricane Sandy victims have been mistreated is the sheer scope of the offenses. Seemingly every government agency and program that has had its hands in the recovery has cheated and blundered its way through the process, extending the suffering for four years — and counting.

That was the overriding message from victims who poured out some of their heartache during an Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee hearing on the Sandy recovery Thursday. And their nightmares are just a small sampling. Talk to those who have been forced to rebuild and the horror stories just keep coming.

Homeowners have been bewildered, angered and pushed to the brink of capitulation by a bureaucratic maze with obstacles around every turn. The indignities keep multiplying. Many owners were unfairly underpaid on their claims, the result in some cases of intentional doctoring of damage assessments and an appeals process that was itself manipulated to suppress payments. Others endured unreasonably long delays in receiving any assistance, putting greater and greater pressure on their own finances; thousands of homes under the state’s RREM (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation) program have yet to be rebuilt.

Most troubling to many of the residents who spoke before the Assembly committee is the state’s effort to reclaim supposed aid overpayments that have long been spent, and that recipients can’t possibly be expected to return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent out similar recoupment letters trying to get money back. These are not just cases of suspected fraud. Many of the overpayments were simple mistakes. So now victims have to suffer again to make up for someone else’s error?

All of this underscores the critical need for legislation that would protect homeowners from foreclosures for an extended period. A bill that would have accomplished that was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in the last legislative session, and lawmakers clearly aren’t working aggressively enough to push a fresh version of a bill through to the governor’s desk. Christie objected to oversight elements, preferring that judges be given control of individual homeowner cases.

Regardless of the method, it is necessary legislation that Sandy victims deserve. Government officials owe it to them after all they’ve put them through after the storm.

Remember how we got here. The recovery effort after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was plagued by problems that generated extensive criticism of excessive spending. FEMA, as a result, was motivated from the start of the Sandy recovery to keep costs down. In theory that meant greater efficiency and awards that more appropriately reflected actual damage, but in practice that meant a variety of schemes to cheat victims.

Damage reports developed on site were changed and underplayed by others who never visited the scene. Public pressure forced many of the underpaid claims to be reconsidered under appeal, but the appeal procedure itself was structured to discourage challenges by withholding entire payments while under review, even if only a portion of the award was under appeal. Public pressure eventually forced officials to reopen many cases that had already been closed, but whistleblowers said even that process was tainted by orders from above to those examining the appeals to simply plug the claims into a formula designed to cheat victims. Under public pressure FEMA eventually adopted several related reforms.

Meanwhile, we learned last week that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development wants the state to justify $43 million in apparently questionable spending, or pay the money back. That stems from an audit of the company formerly in charge of distributing aid under three of the state’s disaster programs. But if some of that money has to be returned, where will it come from? Does the state plan to hit up victims for more repayments?

Nearly everyone, it seems, has failed Sandy victims. Their stories should not have to end with foreclosures largely forced upon them by government incompetence. Lawmakers need to provide some protection while homeowners continue to recover not just from the storm, but from the recovery process itself.

Article source: http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/10/29/sandy-victims-need-foreclosure-protection/92909784/

Norwich files tax foreclosure action on defunct Martin Luther King Center

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Norwich — With its nonprofit status expired and property taxes now topping $20,000, the city has started foreclosure action on the defunct and shuttered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center at 21 Fairmount St.

The youth center, which was established in 1967, has had a long history of ups and downs, tied mainly to funding woes, political infighting in decades past, lack of volunteers and mounting costs.

The final chapter closed in December 2013, when the last remaining board member, M. Garfield Rucker, told the few families who used the center’s small food pantry to clean the place out. He called Norwich Public Utilities and asked them to shut off the power and utilities. The bill had escalated past $600, with no steady income, Rucker, who had dedicated many years to the center, said at the time.

He used a surprise grant from the William W. Backus Hospital to pay the outstanding utility and other bills and let the building go dark.

Days later, Rucker returned to check on the building and was disheartened to find a smashed window in the front door and interior damage throughout the building. Police quickly apprehended six youths responsible for the damage — some of whom had attended programs at the center — but Rucker declined to file charges.

Contacted Thursday about the foreclosure action filed in Norwich land records, Rucker was resigned. “They can do what they have to do,” he said. There’s nobody left on the defunct former board of directors to respond to the summons, Rucker said.

City Assessor Donna Ralston said the center’s tax exempt status — which required renewal every four years — was due in 2013. She sent a letter to the center along with the renewal form in September 2013. She sent a reminder letter on Dec. 16 of that year, enclosing a second renewal form. She received no response, she said.

Once the tax exempt status was revoked, taxes started to accrue on the property assessed at $138,100. Attorney Aimee Wickless, handling the city’s foreclosure action, said the bill now stands at $20,292. She filed foreclosure action in New London Superior Court on Oct. 20.

Wickless said there are no other creditors after the city. If the foreclosure goes forward, the judge would have to decide if the city should be allowed to take possession of the property or if it should be auctioned.

The 1910 building, which looks like a large house, shows signs of neglect, with peeling paint, vines climbing the side walls and porch and overgrown weeds in the lower yard that once hosted youth picnics. A bike rack is pushed up against the front porch and a small overfull garbage can sits near the sidewalk.

“It’s sad that these nonprofits have such difficulty,” Mayor Deberey Hinchey said. “I don’t know what the answer is for something like the Martin Luther King Center, which did great things.”

Hinchey will put the center on a list of blighted buildings discussed weekly by a committee of city officials. City Manager John Salomone took a look at the building after learning of the pending foreclosure. Salomone said he will ask city police to pay special attention to it on patrols in the neighborhood.

Norwich resident David Holland, however, is not ready to abandon hope for the center where he grew up. Holland said it’s an embarrassment to the city to have the still bright and colorful “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center” sign hanging from the front porch, seeming to invite passersby to enter.

Holland is approaching friends and hopes to come up with a plan soon to revive the King Center to once again host programs, after-school tutoring and the types of field trips Holland recalls fondly from his own youth.

“When I was a kid, I never would have gone to the Basketball Hall of Fame or Fenway Park if it had not been for that center,” Holland said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Article source: http://www.theday.com/local/20161029/norwich-files-tax-foreclosure-action-on-defunct-martin-luther-king-center

Strongsville Corporate Center faces foreclosure proceeding

Copyright © 2016 Crain Communications Inc.



Use of editorial content without permission is strictly prohibited.
All rights reserved.

Article source: http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20161030/NEWS/161029786/strongsville-corporate-center-faces-foreclosure-proceeding

Couple Loses Home To Bank They Thought Was Helping Them …

Follow CBSDFW.COM: Facebook | Twitter

GRAPEVINE (CBS11) – Elizabeth and David Ball have 21 years of memories at their Grapevine home. Elizabeth recalled the time her kids learned how to ride a bike or where they skateboarded. Every street corner has memories, but they don’t have their home.

The couple told CBS11 they lost their home to a bank they believed was helping them keep it. They said the whole process caught them by surprise.

In 2014, Mr. Ball lost his job. He took up a freelance job with an unsteady income. They decided to modify their mortgage loan which would lower their monthly payments. “We didn’t want to have to dip into our savings,” Elizabeth Ball said.

They called CitiMortgage, their mortgage company and started their loan modification process.  “In one of the conversations, I was like should I make a house payment?” Elizabeth recalled asking the bank representative on the phone. “They were like no! Don’t do that because that will confuse the issue, that will really mess things up.”

As the couple started getting the documents together, they also started receiving foreclosure notices from CitiMortgage. Citi was working on their loan modification and their foreclosure.

They called the bank again. Elizabeth said the customer service rep told them not to worry, “She said, that department isn’t caught up with what we’re doing here in the modification department.”

Elizabeth and David say they trusted the service representatives they were speaking to.

“Never once did I truly believe that we were going to be foreclosed” Elizabeth said.

She believed everything was going to be take care of.

They recall the day when David received an eviction notice. Their home of 21 years was being foreclosed on and they had three days to get out of their home.

“I crumbled to the ground and sat there and cried and cried,” Elizabeth recalled.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau said it receives thousands of consumer complaints related to loan modifications and foreclosure. From July 2001 to March 2016, it has logged 223,000 mortgage related complaints.

Consumers told CFPB that lenders drag out the process by repeated requests to submit the same documentation. The CFPB report also states that lenders sent consumers conflicting foreclosure notices while the homeowners were trying to get help.

Molly Rogers, an attorney with legal aid in Austin, handles mortgage and foreclosure related cases. She said sometimes consumers don’t really know why their loan modification applications get rejected or take too long to complete.

She said consumers have 37 days before any scheduled foreclosure sale. But it depends on if you have a completed application.

“Once that complete application is on file, the bank has to stop the foreclosure from going forward,” she said. But she said the bank decides when the application is complete.

Elizabeth and David Ball (CBS11)

Elizabeth and David Ball (CBS11)

The Balls also believe that Citi dual-tracked their loan. It happens when a mortgage company continues foreclosure proceedings while considering an application for a loan modification at the same time.

That’s illegal under federal regulations.

Citi told CBS11 “Citi works closely with financially distressed borrowers to help them avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes.  We explore potential options which may include loan modifications, forbearance or other financial relief plans. If, however, there is no plan in place, and we do not receive a complete financial information package from the homeowner prior to the foreclosure sale, the foreclosure process moves forward.  In such cases, dual tracking regulations do not apply to the loan. ”

The couple feel like they were taken advantage, “I trusted the mortgage company,” she said. “I worked with them in good faith.”

If you’re having trouble with loan modification. Rogers says you can seek advice from a certified HUD counselor or get an attorney to help you thorough the process. You can also file a complaint with the CFPB.  She also says do not stop payment on your home, even if you hear conflicting information.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Article source: http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2016/10/28/couple-loses-home-to-bank-they-thought-was-helping-them/

EDITORIAL: Sandy victims need foreclosure protection

What remains remarkable, and tragic, about the ways in which Hurricane Sandy victims have been mistreated is the sheer scope of the offenses. Seemingly every government agency and program that has had its hands in the recovery has cheated and blundered its way through the process, extending the suffering for four years — and counting.

That was the overriding message from victims who poured out some of their heartache during an Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee hearing on the Sandy recovery Thursday. And their nightmares are just a small sampling. Talk to those who have been forced to rebuild and the horror stories just keep coming.

Homeowners have been bewildered, angered and pushed to the brink of capitulation by a bureaucratic maze with obstacles around every turn. The indignities keep multiplying. Many owners were unfairly underpaid on their claims, the result in some cases of intentional doctoring of damage assessments and an appeals process that was itself manipulated to suppress payments. Others endured unreasonably long delays in receiving any assistance, putting greater and greater pressure on their own finances; thousands of homes under the state’s RREM (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation) program have yet to be rebuilt.

Most troubling to many of the residents who spoke before the Assembly committee is the state’s effort to reclaim supposed aid overpayments that have long been spent, and that recipients can’t possibly be expected to return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent out similar recoupment letters trying to get money back. These are not just cases of suspected fraud. Many of the overpayments were simple mistakes. So now victims have to suffer again to make up for someone else’s error?

All of this underscores the critical need for legislation that would protect homeowners from foreclosures for an extended period. A bill that would have accomplished that was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in the last legislative session, and lawmakers clearly aren’t working aggressively enough to push a fresh version of a bill through to the governor’s desk. Christie objected to oversight elements, preferring that judges be given control of individual homeowner cases.

Regardless of the method, it is necessary legislation that Sandy victims deserve. Government officials owe it to them after all they’ve put them through after the storm.

Remember how we got here. The recovery effort after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was plagued by problems that generated extensive criticism of excessive spending. FEMA, as a result, was motivated from the start of the Sandy recovery to keep costs down. In theory that meant greater efficiency and awards that more appropriately reflected actual damage, but in practice that meant a variety of schemes to cheat victims.

Damage reports developed on site were changed and underplayed by others who never visited the scene. Public pressure forced many of the underpaid claims to be reconsidered under appeal, but the appeal procedure itself was structured to discourage challenges by withholding entire payments while under review, even if only a portion of the award was under appeal. Public pressure eventually forced officials to reopen many cases that had already been closed, but whistleblowers said even that process was tainted by orders from above to those examining the appeals to simply plug the claims into a formula designed to cheat victims. Under public pressure FEMA eventually adopted several related reforms.

Meanwhile, we learned last week that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development wants the state to justify $43 million in apparently questionable spending, or pay the money back. That stems from an audit of the company formerly in charge of distributing aid under three of the state’s disaster programs. But if some of that money has to be returned, where will it come from? Does the state plan to hit up victims for more repayments?

Nearly everyone, it seems, has failed Sandy victims. Their stories should not have to end with foreclosures largely forced upon them by government incompetence. Lawmakers need to provide some protection while homeowners continue to recover not just from the storm, but from the recovery process itself.

Article source: http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/10/29/sandy-victims-need-foreclosure-protection/92909784/

Activists fight for single mom, autistic triplets at foreclosure auction

Worcester, Massachusetts
Stefani Tubert holds a photo of her sons at her home’s foreclosure auction. A police officer stands between the auctioneer and Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team members/Steven King photo

If her family is evicted, Stefani Tubert is worried that one of her three autistic triplets will regress due to stress and an interrupted routine. Her personal story may have driven away bidders at the foreclosure auction for her home on Barnard Road, but members of the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team know from experience that the fight is far from over. The bank bought the house back, and Tubert said she will fight for the well-being of her children with the help of WAFT, a group of volunteers who frequently protest at auctions and evictions and who cut through the statistics to find the often poignant stories of the people behind them.

Tubert, a single mother who held a framed photo of her nearly 11-year-old sons during the protest, said problems with the signing of the initial mortgage were compounded by her divorce, and she was not in the loop while her case moved forward.

“I knew it was going into foreclosure, but I didn’t have any information on it because everything came in my ex-husband’s name, and legally you’re not allowed to open that,” Tubert said. “If [WAFT member] Chris [Horton] hadn’t come to my house, I wouldn’t have known my house was being auctioned.”

Educating homeowners on their rights is one of the cornerstones of WAFT’s mission. In Tubert’s case, she said after reviewing the mortgage and meeting with WAFT, she could identify seven “illegal things” on the first page of the mortgage alone.

“I didn’t know anything, so I said, oh, ok, I’m screwed,” Tubert said. “And everyone said that’s not true. There were things that could have been done.”

Tubert bought the home with her husband in 2004, and said she signed a modified mortgage in 2006 as well. Many of the people WAFT works with have mortgages signed before the 2008 mortgage crisis, and the point of view of activists working to keep people in their homes is that banks knowingly signed people up for “predatory” agreements that were impossible to pay back, with conditions and clauses designed to trip up buyers. Tubert said the bank wants a $30,000 down payment to enter into negotiations to re-modify the mortgage, money she does not have. The houses has an assessed value of $132,000, according to Worcester property records, although Tubert said the balance of the mortgage is above $200,000.

Worcester, Massachusetts

The bank ended up buying the property back for $180,000 at the auction, a victory for Tubert since dealing with individual buyers is more difficult. Although two potential bidders showed up in the rain, they did not bid, although they did talk with the auctioneer afterwards. WAFT members said they have been seeing a recent tactic emerge where bidders will exchange contact information with the bank with the intention of buying it from them down the line.

The bidders may have been scared off by Tubert’s personal story. The auction ended before her three sons got back from school, but Tubert said any shock to their routine – for example, getting evicted – would be especially bad for a child with autism. Autism can involve “regression,” where a child appears to develop like others but then loses social functioning. Tubert said one of her sons has already had two regressions, and was close to tears explaining the effect an eviction would have on him.

“It’s almost like an alien abduction when your child is taken from you,” Tubert said. “… little upsets, for any other child, they can bounce back. For my kids, it’s different. Kids with autism don’t understand. They know something’s askew, and because something’s askew it’s like something is constantly in the back of their head, scratching at it. I’m scared that my son will have a third regression.”

The next step in most mortgage battles, and presumably Tubert’s, is when the bank takes the homeowner to court. Tubert is all set for WAFT’s next step in the battle plan – staying put even if they send a 72-hour notice to vacate the premises – and said she would not have made it this far without the fateful knock on her door from a WAFT volunteer.

“The only way I knew my rights is by these awesome people,” Tubert said. “You guys asked for nothing in return, but to help me.”

Article source: http://worcestermag.com/2016/10/28/activists-fight-single-mom-autistic-triplets-foreclosure-auction/47141

Widespread use of senior judges in foreclosure cases questioned …

TAMPA — The presiding judge in courtroom 510 on the fifth floor of the George Edgecomb Courthouse retired eight years ago.

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Yet on a recent Wednesday morning, The Honorable Sandra Taylor — a black robe draping her shoulders — was busy working her $350-a-day part-time job.

Unlike most of the other judges in the 13th Judicial Circuit, Taylor was never elected to the bench in Hillsborough County, nor was she appointed by the governor. In fact, she doesn’t even live here.

Taylor, 67, is a senior judge. Retired judges like her are called in to hear cases in the absence of a regular judge. In essence, they are the substitute teachers of the state court system.

Senior judges are nothing new. But in recent years, courts have relied on them more and more, especially in dealing with the massive backlog of foreclosure cases resulting from the 2008 housing crisis.

That has raised some eyebrows, especially among foreclosure defense lawyers.

One of them, Matt Weidner of St. Petersburg, recently challenged the practice before the state Supreme Court.

“This is a constitutional question,” Weidner said. “This transcends foreclosures.”

• • •

Florida has 209 senior judges; in the last year, 15 of them worked in Hillsborough. The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court grants their senior status following an application process.

Among the requirements: they must not have been defeated for re-election or failed to win a merit retention vote in their last judicial office before retirement. Once approved, the Supreme Court allows them to serve as judges anywhere in the state. Every few years, committees review their work to ensure they are still fit to serve.

Florida’s constitution permits the assignment of retired judges as they are needed. But it specifies that such assignments are supposed to be temporary.

That is part of what irks Weidner, who has made the senior judge issue something of a personal crusade.

In 2013, the state courts system received additional funds to provide more senior judges to reduce the number of outstanding of foreclosure cases.

Weidner has repeatedly challenged the use of senior judges, arguing that their assignments in foreclosure divisions are not temporary.

In April, he filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court.

“Surely this court must recognize,” he wrote, “that the Florida Constitution does not contemplate, and in fact it expressly forbids, the permanent maintenance of a corps of ‘super’ senior judges, who sit entirely immune from the constitutional restrictions that every other judge in this state complies with.”

Weidner noted, among other things, the constitutional requirement that judges live “in the territorial jurisdiction of the court” and the prohibition of judges continuing to serve beyond age 70.

A state committee that reviewed senior judge practices in 2002 justified both of these practices. They wrote that since senior judges are accountable to the Supreme Court’s chief justice, they should be able to serve statewide. They also recommended periodic reviews of senior judges to ensure they are still fit to serve.

Eight weeks after Weidner’s petition, the court dismissed it. But he hasn’t given up the cause. He sees the frequent use of senior judges as a symptom of the greater problem of an underfunded judiciary.

“I think there is a significant group of people that think at least some of the senior judges are problematic,” said Tom Hall, a former clerk of the Florida Supreme Court. “My own opinion is the use of senior judges is necessary. The Legislature has, despite numerous requests to fund new courts, kept turning that down.”

In a 2003 opinion the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the senior judge system. The justices noted the cost effectiveness and efficiency senior judges provide.

But in a partial dissent, Justice R. Fred Lewis noted that some circuits had essentially created permanent senior judge divisions.

“In reaching its decision, the majority must engage in a ‘judicial wink’ as it considers the true definition of ‘temporary,’” he wrote.

• • •

Taylor, 67, had a long legal career in Monroe County. She was the chief judge for the 16th judicial circuit, which covers the Florida Keys, when she retired in 2008. Shortly thereafter came the foreclosure crisis.

Taylor’s husband, a real estate agent, was caught in the middle of the turmoil. She said it became important for her to find new work.

She found it in, among other places, St. Augustine (where she now lives), Daytona, Sarasota, and Tampa.

Taylor grew up in Tampa. She was a graduate of Chamberlain High School. Through her judicial colleagues, she obtained a semi-regular schedule in Hillsborough’s foreclosure division.

“Tampa has historically made it very easy for me to do it,” she said.

Unlike other out-of-county judges, Taylor does not request reimbursement for travel expenses. About once a month, she makes the trek from St. Augustine. She stays in her RV, which she keeps in east Tampa. Downtown, she has a small judicial chamber, with personal pictures on the walls and a small window near the ceiling.

“Considering the type of work we’re assigned, the people that work here are so helpful,” she said. “They make me feel welcome.”

• • •

Senior judges make $350 a day. In Hillsborough County, they are called in to work in various civil and criminal divisions.

Some work more than others. But no one works quite as much as Taylor and Senior Judge Perry Little, who retired from Hillsborough in 2006.

Both share the older foreclosure cases. According to court administrative records, from September 2015 to August 2016, Taylor worked 108 days, Little worked 118.

Judges retired from other nearby counties also fill vacancies from time to time. Their work days are recorded in court administrative records.

Judge Robert Beach, 86, who retired in 1993 from the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit, logged 11 days in Hillsborough between September 2015 and August 2016.

J. Rogers Padgett, who retired from Hillsborough in 2008, worked 64 days in criminal and civil divisions between September 2015 and August 2016.

Padgett, 78, said senior judging is a way of keeping a hand in the local legal community.

“If you are a good judge and you’re called to handle someone’s division, then you’ll do it the way you always did it and nobody will complain about it,” Padgett said.

“I’ve never heard anybody else complain except Mr. Weidner in St. Pete,” he said. “It’s really much ado about nothing.”

Whether that’s true is something that Weidner is sure to keep debating. Mark Stopa, a Tampa foreclosure defense lawyer, noted that the Legislature recently stopped allocating money for senior judges to handle foreclosures now that the backlog has been reduced.

In Hillsborough, which is disbanding its main foreclosure division, senior judges will still handle the older cases, said Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta. He noted that the last time the Legislature approved new trial court judges was in 2006. Senior judges help carry the burgeoning case load, he said.

“(They) are a valuable resource,” Ficarrotta said. “Quite frankly, we would be very hard-pressed without putting them to work.”

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Article source: http://web.tampabay.com/news/courts/widespread-use-of-senior-judges-in-foreclosure-cases-questioned/2300416