STETSON LAW REVIEW AND FORECLOSING IN A HURRICANE
In the Florida Supreme Court’s 2009 Report, it described the coming foreclosure crisis in terms every Floridian would under-stand: the Court compared it to a hurricane bearing down on the state.1 Today, nearly three years later, the analogy remains very appropriate, but the situation has only gotten much worse. The hurricane remains stalled over the state, and it shows no signs of leaving anytime soon.
Any critical discussion of the problems facing Florida’s court system must begin with a simple and staggering fact: Florida’s entire court budget accounts for less than one percent of Florida’s overall state government budget.2 Consider this fact as well: ” In 2009, Florida lawmakers changed the court system’s funding sys-tem, making it dependent on filing fees rather than money from the state budget. Some [eighty percent] of the court’s $462 million budget comes from filing fees.”3 Recently, the courts have been overburdened with the number of foreclosure filings and ” pro-jected that [seventy-seven percent] of their fees would come from real estate filings [in 2011].”4 Because of the economic crash, the discovery of widespread abuses in court processes, and violations of laws and ethics guidelines, however, Florida’s courts faced a sharp drop in mortgage foreclosure filing fees, which led to a $72.3 million shortfall in court funding in 2011.
Indeed, the foreclosure crisis that has impacted Florida’s entire judicial system has exposed profound challenges to our entire system of civil justice. These challenges will not be solved with so-called ” foreclosure rocket dockets,” in which the courts give priority to quickly disposing of cases rather than following long-established rules of civil procedure as well as substantive law. Furthermore, current proposals to circumvent Florida’s judi-cial system entirely for any version of a non-judicial foreclosure process merely avoid the much larger issues.
While stopping short of officially recognizing that Florida courts are underfunded to the degree that they no longer perform their constitutionally mandated duties, this quotation from the Florida Supreme Court crystallizes the catastrophe facing Flor-ida’s judiciary in one sentence: ” [T]his Court has stated that Florida’s court system is operationally underfunded . . . .”6 Nowhere is the strain more acutely felt than in the world of fore-closure litigation.