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Foreclosure Filings Up in 2009

Foreclosure filings in courts across the state rose in 2009 by just more than 30,000, according to end-of-year numbers kept by the Florida Supreme Court.

In 2009, Florida courts saw 398,825 foreclosure filings, compared to 368,748 in 2008, with the highest number of cases occurring in Miami-Dade County and Broward County. Miami-Dade courts saw 63,522 foreclosure cases in 2009 and Broward courts handled 49,640.

The increased number of foreclosure cases is no surprise given the downturn of the economy combined with the number of people who got loans with fluctuating interest rates. And it may continue for the short term, with unemployment registering at 11.8 percent for December.

For the court system, which has seen staff cuts in the sour economy, it has become a tsunami of paperwork, with many cases delayed for months. A case that may have been resolved in three months is now often dragged out to six months, officials have said.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince has ordered that circuit courts create uniform mediation programs for all foreclosure cases on the recommendation of the court's Task Force on Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Cases. Under the program, all foreclosure cases in state court that involve residential homesteaded property will be referred to mediation unless the plaintiff and the borrower agree to skip the step, or the borrower refuses to participate.

The order also calls for pre-mediation foreclosure counseling and early exchange of borrower and lender information prior to mediation.

Miami--Dade Judge Jennifer Bailey, who chaired the task force, told lawmakers this week that many circuits are still in the process of putting in place programs that fit Quince's order. Some circuits had begun mediation programs on their own in response to the crush of filings, and are now tweaking them to match the order.

In circuits, such as Miami-Dade, that began using mediation programs before Quince issued the order, the success rate is about 65 percent to 70 percent, Bailey said, noting court officials hope the success rates will go up.

“As far as I'm concerned, the best foreclosure case is one I never see,” Bailey said.

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