Why did I file a petition challenging Florida’s Supreme Court and their unconstitutional use of Senior Judges? Read on:
On April 12, 2016, I was in a meeting that was attended by a small group of people, including elected officials. As the elected officials were giving their introduction one retired judge…who just so happens to be a very good senior judge explained that his most recent service was as a senior judge hearing foreclosure cases.
He further elaborated by saying,
“You all know courts in Florida were burdened with foreclosure cases. So the Florida Bankers approached the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges and together they worked out a plan to bring in retired judges like me to clear out all these old foreclosure cases that were such a problem on their dockets.”
There were a few people in this audience that knew who I was and who looked over at me, knowing that the rather blunt explanation/admission reflected a much larger problem that me and other consumer justice advocates have been fighting for many years.
To the family law attorney that was in this audience I presented this analogy….
“What if your practice was to only defend men in custody battles and you learned that a radical feminist group met with the state’s family law judges and together they set up a court system that was inherently unfair to your clients?”
To a criminal attorney, my question would be:
“What if the private prison corporations met with the leadership of state criminal law judges and set up a court system that resulted in dramatically worse sentences for your clients?”
Each example above represents a fundamental violation of the independence and neutrality that we should expect out of our court system and yet, this violation of fundamental fairness and equal justice has occurred…and continues to occur. But it’s even worse.
In the context of senior judges hearing foreclosure cases, the parties (the bankers) that set up this system actually paid for the judges and the court staff that are prosecuting their cases. They did not do this indirectly…it was all quite direct. In fact, I remember sitting on the 4th Floor of Florida’s capital during a legislative session and a lobbyist for the Florida Bar/Florida Courts who didn’t quite understand my position cheerfully explained to me how they had all worked together to craft this grossly improper plan.
We cannot change what has occurred in the past, but it is an absolute obligation on the part of lawyers and judges especially to carefully examine what has occurred here and recognize what a dangerous precedent that has been established here. We must be mindful that given the “success” of this partnership, there will be pressures to apply this model in future contexts…and we must all work to guard against it.