Florida Homeowner Slams Judge Hearing 300 Cases

PHOTO: Blaize McMonagle, a homeowner in Winter Springs, Fl., whose foreclosure case was among 300 that went before a judge in Seminole County this week.PlayCourtesy Blaize McMonagle
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Blaize McMonagle, a Florida homeowner who had one of 300 foreclosure cases heard in a courtroom during three days this week, said the judge sped through his case without a chance to defend himself.

McMonagle, 30, bought his home in Winter Springs, Fla., in October 2007, but fell behind in his mortgage payments when he was laid off from his job as a sales person at an aviation company in January 2008. He was able to pay for several months from his savings until July 2008. His bank put him in default in August-September.

McMonagle, who is now unemployed, said he came to the court on Tuesday morning ready to defend his case. His defense, he said, is that his bank no longer owns the loan for his home and it has "not been willing to work" with he and his wife regarding a loan modification.

"The judge asked me when the last time I paid was and then he gave a default judgment to my bank, without giving me any opportunity to defend myself," he said.

"I didn't get to speak," McMonagle said. "I have a constitutional right to defend myself and at least give the judge evidence and make my case, but he didn't give me the chance to do that. He just ruled against me. I think it's an abomination of the justice system."

Judge Alan Dickey in Seminole County is hearing 300 foreclosure cases in three days. The judge, of Florida's 18th judicial circuit, scheduled groups of foreclosure cases at a time, such as 10 cases at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, then 13 cases at 10:30 a.m. before his next batch at 1:30 p.m. The schedule continued on Wednesday and today.

Debbie Whitehead, the judge's judicial assistant, told ABC News that Tuesday morning was "very hectic."

"If everybody shows up, I'll have about 30 seconds a case," Dickey told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this week.

The 300 cases varied in size and scope. Nhan Lee, an attorney, was another homeowner scheduled to go before the judge about his foreclosed property. Lee bought his home in Oviedo in 2004 according to public documents, but he has been more focused on his wife of 20 years, Victoria, who passed away on Thursday morning after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She had been hospitalized since Christmas Day.

"Losing my house is the last thing on my mind," Lee said. "After two years of trying to loan modify, the bank can have it."

Lee's foreclosure began in December 2009 after he shut down his solo law practice in 2008 when he and his clients were hit by the economic downturn. He has since joined another law firm, but he fears the latest setback with his wife's health may result in unemployment since he had remained by his wife's side for almost a month.

"Losing my house, losing my job, means nothing compared to losing my wife," said Lee, who has five children ages four to 28. "She's only 45."

Lee's hearing was continued. He called it a "small blessing" so he and his family could go home and allow his wife to die at home.

The court's busy docket schedule is not completely new in Florida, which has been one of the worst hit in the country's foreclosure crisis. In October, Dickey processed 125 foreclosure cases an hour in a day, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Whitehead many of those cases were dismissed or continued.

Florida was among the 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates in 2011, with 2.06 percent, the seventh highest. Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate of 6 percent, with one in 16 homes having at least one foreclosure filing in 2011, according to RealtyTrac.

There were about 2.7 million foreclosure filings in 2011 on 1.9 million properties, down 34 percent compared to 2010, and 33 percent below that of 2009 and 19 percent below 2008, foreclosure database RealtyTrac reported.

Dickey expressed disappointment in Florida legislature' move six months ago to end a program funding retired judges assisting with the backlog of foreclosure cases. The $6 million in funding assisted with cases from the summer of 2010, the Sentinel reported.

Judge J. Thomas McGrady, chief judge of Florida's Sixth Judicial Circuit, wrote an editorial last month clarifying misconceptions about terms like "robo-judge" and "rocket docket" which were used to describe the procedures to hear a large number of foreclosure cases at once.

Summary judgment hearings are not "rocket dockets," he wrote in the Tampa Bay Times.

"The summary judgment rule, a long-standing rule of civil procedure, applies to all civil cases. The summary judgment's function is an efficient procedure for the prompt resolution of cases with no genuine issue of material fact and when the party seeking the judgment is entitled by law to a decision."

Courtrooms in Florida have done their best to attend to the large number of foreclosure cases, said Whitehead.

"We really miss having a senior judge taking over the foreclosures," Whitehead said, describing the retired judges. "The foreclosures have really bogged us down."

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