“At the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa, Judge Sandra Taylor presides over one of the special courts set up to help work through Florida’s backlog of foreclosure cases. Sitting at a desk in a fifth-floor conference room, with a court assistant and a cart stacked with manila envelopes at her side, Taylor uses a speakerphone to talk to attorneys for the banks and mortgage servicers who call in rather than appear in person. Most borrowers don’t show up to contest the loss of their homes.
One day in early October, Taylor had 51 cases on her docket. It took her about 30 seconds to approve some of the actions and set a sale date after lenders’ attorneys summarized the case and the amount owed. “I wish there was more we can do,” Taylor told one homeowner who did appear. She said there was “no legal reason” why she shouldn’t approve the foreclosure on the home.
Another homeowner, Ingrid Young, 44, told Taylor she couldn’t afford the $1,900 monthly payment for her Tampa house because she earns only $1,800 a month. “I am in default, and I do realize that,” she said. Taylor approved the foreclosure after persuading attorneys for CitiMortgage, a unit of Citigroup (NYSE:C – News), to set the sale date in January, after the holidays. “It’s a very sad business,” the judge said during a break.
Florida has the third-highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. after Nevada and Arizona, according to RealtyTrac, the Irvine (Calif.)-based data firm. One in every 34 housing units — double the U.S. average — was in the foreclosure process or bank-owned as of Sept. 1. Florida’s legislature appropriated $9.6 million this year to hire semi-retired judges and case managers to preside over foreclosure hearings such as those in Tampa, which have come to be known as “rocket dockets.”