“The goliath air conditioning system in the Palm Beach County courthouse is chugging full tilt as the temperature nears 90-degrees outside and, up on the fourth floor, the foreclosure court sign-in line grows.
It’s been more than five years since Florida was rocked by the housing crisis, three years since the robo-signing scandal brought everything to a crawl, more than one year since the National Mortgage Settlement was signed to make everything better, and nearly two months since the state’s fast-track foreclosure bill became law with the signature of Gov. Rick Scott.
Much of the country has moved on, but not here.
The crowd on this first day of August is mostly compelled by a local court order to clear aging cases from an overwhelmed docket, forcing dusty files to trial.
Assembly begins before 8 a.m. Soon, the line trails down the fourth-floor hallway, turning a corner to form a U-shape and blocking the entrance to a double row of elevators. People squeeze sideways through the quiet mob.
Court documents become makeshift fans.
Homeowners stand out amid the suited attorneys, dots of white T-shirts and shorts in a sea of dark suits. Children aren’t exempt from foreclosure court. On summer break, they come with their parents wearing Mickey Mouse and Justin Bieber sweatshirts, Ipods muting out the confused whispers of pro se litigants.
“We’re doing a loan modification,” one woman complains. “How can they foreclose on us?”
There is a man holding a rosary, clear beads accented by blue. He quickly shoves the string in his pocket as he enters a courtroom where Circuit Judge Roger Colton’s word is gospel.
An 89-year-old woman wearing slippers rests her head on her cane. She’s been in foreclosure since 2009, the victim, her son says, of a predatory lender who came to her door selling a mortgage she couldn’t afford.
Colton has a long morning ahead of him and dozens of cases to hear.
“How are you today Mrs. Murphy,” he says to one homeowner who is defending herself.
“Nervous,” Mrs. Murphy says.
“Take a deep breath,” he counsels.
“I would like an extension of the sale date because I have a short sale pending,” Mrs. Murphy pleads.
“You got it,” Colton says “You don’t have to worry about this home being sold at auction for 90 days.”
“I like you,” Mrs. Murphy says. “My question is how long can I stay in the home after it sells?”
The courtroom is so full _ standing room only _ that when one person leaves an entire bench scoots down in unison to make room for another.
Attorneys race back and forth between courtrooms. Up on the ninth-floor, Judge Meenu Sasser is speeding through foreclosure trials on cases that date back to 2009.
That’s where 89-year-old Idella Lindsey ends up, a white sweater draped around her shoulders and looking mostly unaware of what’s happening. Her son Zeb says Lindsey is trying to get a loan modification, but doubts she’ll be able to afford even a reduced payment.
Her monthly income is $1,500, and she has another foreclosure on a tiny cottage that she took out in 2006 for $75,000.”