(Florida Today) - Already facing overloaded dockets of criminal and civil cases, Florida's court system is getting hit by a deluge of foreclosures that could tie up the state's legal system for years to come, according to nationally prominent lawyer.
"It's Florida's Category 5 foreclosure hurricane," said Kendall Coffey, a legal expert and author of "Foreclosures in Florida," a book he discussed during a Space Coast Tiger Bay Club dinner in Cocoa Beach.
"Collateral damage can be seen in every sector of life," he said. "The collapsing real estate market inflicted waves of unemployment, massive losses in the financial and real estate industries, and an untold human cost for the families forced out of homes auctioned at public sales. The mortgage meltdown has also battered local governments with a deteriorating tax base."
There are 368,000 pending home foreclosures in the state, and that number could double by 2016, Coffey said.
"In contrast to most states that employ abbreviated processes for deeding the mortgaged property back to the lender, every foreclosure action in Florida is a lawsuit governed by the same rules for pleadings and court hearings that apply to other civil litigation," said Coffey, who added the average foreclosure in Florida takes 806 days. "We're not just going to hand it over to the lender."
"Foreclosures in Florida" details aspects of Florida law along with legal and practical strategies for lenders and borrowers embroiled in default issues, work-outs and litigation over troubled mortgage loans.
That's a hefty topic for a dinner speech, but Coffey made light of his book's straightforward title.
"I think they're going to make it into a movie," he said, drawing laughs from the room of about 50 people. "There's a lot of sex in it."
Coffey is partner in the Coffey Burlington law firm in Miami and has a home in Brevard County. He's a former U.S. attorney, legal analyst for the CNN, MSNBC and Fox networks and author. He was among the lawyers representing Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election recount dispute. His latest book, "Spinning the Law," looks at the art of trying cases in the court of public opinion.
The foreclosure crisis that began with skyrocketing default notices in 2006 has engulfed the nation, but hit Florida especially hard. Half of state's homes are "underwater," meaning owners owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth.
The state's real estate driven economy is generating floodtides of litigation and has spawned an industry of foreclosure defense lawyers who rely on overwhelmed court dockets to stave off foreclosure and keep clients in their homes, Coffey said.
"Florida still has and will have one of the slowest rates of foreclosure in the country," he said.
How will the consumer fare?
"Ultimately," Coffey said, "homeowners will lose a contested foreclosure in the overwhelming majority of cases."