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On April 2nd, Governor DeSantis entered an Order that started Florida’s foreclosure and eviction “moratorium.”  The Governor extended that three times (on May 14th to June 2nd, on June 1st to July 1st, and on June 30th to August 1st). But rather than simply extend it a fourth time, the Governor made significant changes in his most recent July 29th Order.

As covered in our blog, the first Order only suspended and tolled statutes “providing for mortgage foreclosure [and eviction] cause[s] of action.” In the most recent July 29th Order, Governor DeSantis suspended and tolled any statutes “providing for final action at the conclusion of a mortgage foreclosure [or eviction] proceeding under Florida law solely when the proceeding arises from non-payment of mortgage by a single-family mortgagor [or non-payment of rent by a residential tenant] adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency.” (Emphasis added.) The Order defines “adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency” as “loss of employment, diminished wages or business income, or other monetary loss realized during the Florida State of Emergency directly impacting the ability of a [single-family mortgagor or residential tenant] to make [mortgage or rent] payments.” The Order only lasts through 12:01 A.M. on September 1st.

Unlike before, new residential foreclosure and eviction suits can now be filed. Pending cases can proceed. But “final action[s]” cannot be taken for people “adversely affected” by COVID-19. The final action in foreclosures and evictions are, at worst, when a writ of possession is issued. That is after a judgment is entered and, for foreclosure, after a sale is completed. So arguably under this new Order, cases can proceed to judgment, but sheriffs cannot remove people from their homes who are “adversely affected by [] COVID-19” until September 1st.

Last updated on April 5, 2020.

COVID-19 is rapidly changing our court system and the rule of law.  Almost every day courts are issuing new administrative orders. I will continue posting as new developments unfold. As it stands, all state and federal courts are processing cases but there are several limitations.

The most significant development is the push to allow witnesses to be sworn in, and testify, remotely. There is also an effort to allow witnesses to sign declarations, bypassing testimony altogether. (I provide links to these orders below.) Allowing evidentiary hearings with witnesses appearing remotely is a profound change from standard face-to-face witness examination. Examining witnesses in person allows a lawyer to observe non-verbal cues and utilize changes in space to enhance the effectiveness of the exam. Numerous trial workshops and books address this. Think of the famous scene from A Few Good Men (see the end of this video followed by this one) where Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee uses spacial distancing, and more, to crush Colonel Nathan Jessep on cross examination. Online witness examinations will destroy the ability to utilize certain techniques. But as I was taught, great lawyers find new ways to innovate and serve their clients. I suspect advances in technology will create opportunities for new techniques to emerge as well. For example, technology has allowed us to conduct background checks during jury selection. Over the years, I’ve done many depositions remotely and have already developed several techniques suited for this format. I’ll continue to brainstorm and roll play as the transition to online trials and depositions advances.

In addition to being rated a “Legal Elite” by Florida Trend Magazine and a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters, Evan has been designated “AV Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubble. According to Martindale.com, this is “[t]he highest peer rating standard.” It is only “given to attorneys who are ranked at the highest level of professional excellence for their legal expertise, communication skills, and ethical standards by their peers.”

For more information, go to:

https://www.martindale.com/ratings-and-reviews/

We won another trial recently.  Both the Plaintiff and the original lender were Suntrust.  For some reason, the Plaintiff moved to substitute to Fannie at the outset of trial.  I argued prejudice and fairness – considering our motion for leave to amend our answer and affirmative defenses was just denied 5 weeks ago, Plaintiff’s motion to substitute, which is effectively the same thing as our motion to amend, should also be denied. Judge ruled. P’s Motion – GRANTED.

On voir dire, the witness from Seterus testified that he just saw the original note today for the first time and learned of the file a few weeks ago in prep for trial.  Same facts as Kelsey vs SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. I argued authenticity of the note.  Also, the note the Plaintiff had in Court was different than note attached to complaint!  I argued several cases that say the Plaintiff is bound by its pleadings.  The pleadings frame the case and are considered judicial admissions. Objections overruled – Note in evidence.

Mortgage – No evidence it was ever recorded (no stamps from the clerk’s office) and it was not even certified!  I argued that it was not self authenticating and based on Yang v. Sebasian Lakes Condominium AssocGlarum v Lasalle Bank National Association and my voir dire of the Seterus representative, who confirmed he knew nothing about a Suntrust mortgage, the mortgage is also hearsay.  Objections overruled – Mortgage in evidence.

It’s been a few days now since the oral argument was completed in an appeal of one of our foreclosure cases.  Legal issues are rarely cut and dry and while this case seemed to be, it invariably was not.  Months and months of preparation boiled down into 16 minutes of argument and as the buzz from the excitement wears off, I can begin to get a clearer picture of how I feel about this one.

Of course, initially, my mind repeated an internal loop of things I could have said or done differently. Mentioning the Boultbee case which stands for the proposition that a denial along with raising the specific statute, similar to the specific paragraph in the mortgage, in an affirmative defense, without more, is enough to adequately deny the general allegation that conditions precedent have been met to shift the burden back to the Plaintiff to prove that element of their case, is one example.  We did cite that case in our brief but this point is in a footnote.  I sure hope the Judges see that.  There were others but that was the one that bothered me most. This may or may not have made a difference and second guessing your performance as a lawyer is part of the job.  However, overall, I knew the law and was proud of the way things went.  I received a number of calls and emails from trial and appellate lawyers whom I respect and admire and the feedback was positive.  Especially since appellate law sets precedent, this was reassuring. As much as my focus is on serving my clients, I know that many others can be affected by this ruling.

Taking a further step back, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this case would have even needed to be appealed if it were not a foreclosure case.  A few years ago, just before the foreclosure crisis, I was in the middle of a 5-day jury trial.  In the case, like in almost all others, the Judge was called upon to rule as to whether or not a document could be admitted into evidence for the jury to consider in its deliberations.  It was a small, one of many, physical therapy bill.  Rather than seek someone from the physical therapist’s office to admit the bill in a case that involved major surgeries, we sought to admit it through the testimony of a doctor.  The doctor knew the bill was fair and accurate, and even knew that the services were ordered, reasonable, and necessary.  However, as required by Florida Statutes 90.803(6), he could not testify as to when the bill was made, how it was made, how it was kept, and whether or not it was made by a person with knowledge. We had admitted similar evidence in other cases usually by agreement but this opposing lawyer would not stipulate.  Because the doctor couldn’t truthfully testify to the issues or “prongs” required by 90.803(6), the judge properly excluded the bill from coming into evidence.  We had our client later testify based on her personal knowledge as to the amount of that bill so no harm was done.

HB 87: Henry Trawick, the Godfather of Civil Procedure and the Rule of Law Speaks…

“The enactment of §702.015 is useless, unnecessary and will not expedite the foreclosure process. It gives inadequate remedies to persons who may be seriously injured. It does not give any consideration to existing law on several points. The real problem faced in the foreclosure crisis has been the unwillingness of trial courts to insist on plaintiffs properly preparing the pleadings under existing law, enforcing existing law on the standing of plaintiffs; the refusal of appellate courts to properly enforce existing law on standing in foreclosures; and the unwillingness of banks to promptly push foreclosures to judgment to avoid paying real property taxes, condominium assessments and maintenance for the foreclosed property.”

Copy of the letter below…

Must read highlights of this incredibly well written piece below:

“Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a “turnaround specialist,” a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don’t know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America’s top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.”

“The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you’ll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It’s almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.”

Let’s recap a few of the summer’s bank-related headlines.  We’ve heard about top financial industries laundering money in order to arm America’s adversaries, employing racist lending practices  (see growing list of DOJ settlements with BoA, Wells, and GFI), colluding to fix a key interest rate (LIBOR), and mistreatment of financial fraud whistle blowers by government agencies (here and here).

Yesterday’s a Chicago Tribune article highlighted Citigroup’s settlement where Citigroup will pay $25 million dollars to placate tens of thousands of workers and senior citizens in Ann Arbor, MI and Kansas City, MO whose pension funds were stolen in a massive Citigroup investment scheme.  While $25 million sounds like a lot of money, the scheme was a $1.88 billion dollar fraud, so that works out to a penalty of $13.25 per $1,000 of financial fraud.  The article mentions several other cases that have recently been settled in a similar fashion.

This is what has happened to the retirement savings of tens of millions of Americans across the nation.  Our hard earned pension funds and 401k investments have been exposed to and depleted by a massive Wall Street scheme.  Stay tuned for news of more of these settlements.

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