ACLU Calls for Immediate Reform of High-Speed Florida Foreclosure Courts

State Appellate Court Denies ACLU Request for Lee County Resident’s Foreclosure Case to be Heard by General Civil Division CAPE CORAL, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on trial courts across the state of Florida to reform their systems for deciding foreclosure cases after a state appellate court denied an ACLU request to have the foreclosure case of a Lee County resident re-assigned from a special “mass foreclosure docket” that threatened to violate her due process rights under the U.S. and Florida constitutions. In a petition filed in April on behalf of Georgi Merrigan of Cape Coral, Fla., the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida charged that the foreclosure court system in Lee County systematically denies homeowners a fair opportunity to defend their homes against foreclosure. The special “mass foreclosure docket” established in December 2008 operates under rules that differ substantially from those that govern the rest of Lee County’s civil cases and was designed to speed through as many foreclosure cases as possible without providing homeowners facing foreclosure a meaningful opportunity to develop their cases present defenses, according to the petition. In a one-lineder denying the ACLU’s petition, Florida’s District Court of Appeal did not address the substantive merits of the constitutional claims made by the ACLU. State legislators last month voted not to extend a special round of funding for the special court systems erected across the state to handle foreclosure cases. The following can be attributed to Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program: “With last year’s funding for these special foreclosure dockets running out, the approach going forward must be one that gives priority to ensuring a fair judicial proceeding and protecting the rights of those facing foreclosure and the loss of their home. Any shortcuts that have been undertaken by the courts in Lee County and elsewhere in Florida need to come to an end.”