Law Suits & Courts

Florida chief justice says foreclosures must be open

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a memorandum Wednesday directing chief judges of the state's trial courts to make sure foreclosure proceedings are open to the public.

Canady's memo also emphasized that the Trial Court Budget Commission's goal of resolving 62 percent of foreclosure cases should not prevent judges from deciding each one fairly on its merits. A $6 million special appropriation for foreclosure cases is 62 percent of what the courts requested to clear the state's backlog so the goal was set at that level.

Florida had the nation's highest foreclosure rate last month behind Nevada. One of every 155 Florida housing units received a foreclosure filing in October, 2.5 times the national average, according to the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.

Canady issued his directive on open proceedings in response to complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union as well as media and op! en-government organizations. They had cited instances of citizens being told by court officials that such proceedings are closed to the public.

Chief judges must ensure practices in their circuits "are entirely consistent with the constitutional, statutory, procedural rule, and case law requirements of this state regarding the presumption that state court proceedings are open to the public," Canady wrote.

His directive drew praise from ACLU lawyer Larry Schwartztol and Florida Press Association attorney Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former president of Florida State University and the American Bar Association.

"It's a good, elegant statement about open proceedings," D'Alemberte said. He noted that unlike many court orders, it's short and to the point.

Schwartztol said Canady made it clear he takes seriously the presumption court proceedings are open to the public.

The ACLU, Florida Press Association, First Amendment Foundation, Florida Associat! ion of Broadcasters, Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and Florida Times-Union had asked Canady for corrective action in a joint letter Nov. 12.

They noted one instance in which a Jacksonville judge threatened to hold a lawyer in contempt if that attorney once again invited a reporter into a foreclosure proceeding. In other cases people were told proceedings were closed to the public in Orange, Citrus, Duval and Hillsborough counties.

Court officials in Jacksonville say they plan to move foreclosure cases to a larger courtroom next week to make them more accessible to the public.

Canady also endorsed an Oct. 28 memorandum that Bartow-based Circuit Judge John Laurent, chairman of the Trial Court Budget Commission, sent to the 20 chief circuit judges saying the 62 percent backlog goal is not a quota and never was intended to interfere with fairly resolving foreclosures.

"Each case must be adjudicated in accordance with the law," Canady wrote.

The goal's purpose is merely to help the commission measure progress in! reducing the backlog, Laurent wrote.Florida chief justice says foreclosures must be open

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