FL: Courts and foreclosures

Gavel to Gavel: The Blog is designed to be more expansive, in terms of both content and contributors, than the original e-publication. Writers will be key contributors on the front lines of legislation and the courts.

This week marks the first such contribution from Cristina Alonso, an attorney with Carlton Fields and co-chair of the NCSC Young Lawyers committee.

Florida’s legislature is not yet in session, but already has several bills to contend with foreclosures and the courts. SB 1778 and HB 75 provide procedural requirements and limitations for plaintiffs, defendants, and courts in certain foreclosure actions, including a requirement for court-ordered mediation. The bills would require that the Florida Supreme Court create “the form and content notices, affidavits, certificates, liens, and other forms required” and require Circuit Clerks to “provide all forms, together with instructions in English and Spanish, to a pro se defendant seeking assistance in any foreclosure action. Such forms shall be provided at no cost to the defendant.”  Both bills are currently pending in various committees of both chambers.

HI: One step closer to increasing small claims jursidiction

HB 2784 originally increased claims jurisdiction from $3,500 to $7,000. The House Judiciary Committee cut this down to $4,500 on 2/12/10 and on 2/22/10 the House Finance Committee OK’ed the $4,500 threshold. It now goes to the full House.

For more details on the nearly dozen efforts to increase small claims throughout the U.S. this year, check out the Focus piece of Issue 4:6 here.

Emergencies and the courts

How courts operate, or don’t, post-disaster has been of considerable concern since 9/11 and all the more so after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Several states have tackled the matter. For example, Delaware’s SB 25 of 2009 provides for the operation of the courts in the event of an emergency and grants the Chief Justice the authority to declare a judicial emergency when there are emergency circumstances affecting one or more court facilities with such order limited to an initial duration of 30 days but renewable for 30 day periods. It allows the Chief Justice to order the conducting of courts outside their normal county, extend statutes of limitations, and similar measures.

In 2010, several states are looking at similar measures.

Georgia’s HB 185 authorizes the Chief Justice to extend the duration of a judicial emergency order when a public health emergency exists until the emergency ends (currently there is a maximum of 60 days).

Virginia’s HB 883 sets out a procedure for the Supreme Court to follow in entering an order declaring a judicial emergency when there is a disaster as defined in the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law. The bill permits the judicial emergency order to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from time limits or filing requirements in any court affected by the order and allows designation of a neighboring jurisdiction as proper venue for civil and criminal proceedings.

Updates: Nebraska and Kentucky

Nebraska’s LB 727 permits a retired judge who agrees to serve a minimum number of temporary duty days per year as set by the Supreme Court to receive a stipend to be set by the Court. The bill was denoted a “Speaker priority bill” on February 22.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s HB 411, which would have required that construction management fees for courthouse construction be determined by competitive bidding, has been withdrawn.

MN: Contribution limits for judicial candidates pass key committee

SB 80, which would sets contributions limits for judicial candidates, made it out of the Senate in 2009 and was today approved by the House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee. The committee made some amendments but retained the Senate’s limits: $2,000 in an election year and $500 in other years. It is now on the House floor and, if approved, would have to be re-approved by the Senate.

Pennsylvania’s House considers impeaching Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr.

Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr.  has served in that office in 1996 and had, prior too taking office, purchased over a dozen properties in Philadelphia. The properties were in poor condition and the judge cited over 70 times. According to the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline, Judge Berry made use of his office and judicial secretary for a decade to “assist him in the day-to-day operations concerning his properties.” The Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him for four months without pay and he was encouraged to resign by the Philadelphia Bar. Instead, Berry returned to work on January 4.

HR 603 appoints a sub-committee of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Judge Berry’s actions and determine whether they rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Coming Up: Week of February 22, 2010

Crossover
South Dakota – 2/23
Indiana – 2/25
Mississippi – 2/26
Kansas – 2/27

Hearings

Illinois HB 4822 Removes Probation Services as a Division of the Supreme Court and places it as an independent agency headed by a Director appointed by the Governor. In House Rules Committee.

Kansas SB 541 Delays expansion of court of appeals from 13 to 14 judges until 2012. In Senate Judiciary Committee.