Under Pressure, Florida Judge Opens Foreclosure Hearings to the Public

To update the "Invasion of the Home Snatchers" article: there's been a positive development down in Florida.

In my article I described an incident in which a Jacksonville foreclosure judge named A.C. Soud threatened an attorney with contempt for bringing me to court. This was apparently one of many incidents of late that had created the impression that these foreclosure hearings are not entirely public (in another case, a pro se defendant was told that only attorneys were allowed to come to court). As a result of this and other incidents, the national ACLU, along with ACLU of Florida, the Florida Times-Union, the Florida Press Association, the Florida Society of News Editors, the Florida Association of Broadcasters, and the First Amendment Foundation sent a letter to the Florida Supreme Court to complain about the practice and demand changes to the system.

Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady wrote the following response: "I have received the letter and am deeply concerned about the allegations it makes. Today I am directing the Office of the State Courts Administrator to make recommendations concerning appropriate corrective actions."

The upshot of all of this is that the Jacksonville foreclosure court is being moved to a newer and larger courtroom that is more accessible to the public. The move was apparently made at the direction of A.C. Soud himself.

A few other notes. One is that I'm going to be on First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR show with Melissa Ross, tomorrow at 9 a.m. I'm also going to be on the Lawrence O'Donnell show tomorrow night to talk foreclosure and other horrors. Thankfully Rolling Stone is assigning me some less depressing material to cover soon -- so to that letter-writer from British-Columbia who asked if I didn't get tired of "being such a fucking bummer all the time," the answer is yes, thanks, I'm working on that.

Also, lastly, I hear today from the lawyers at JALA, the Jacksonville Legal Aid office whose excellent work I profiled in the piece, that their offices are going to be losing three attorneys in January due to a budgetary shortfall. This organization needs donations to survive (as do legal aid offices all around the country), and here's why this matters; most of the people who are being foreclosed upon actually have ways to fight back if they can get legal representation. The problem is that offices like JALA have a finite number of attorneys, and so are forced to turn back people who come knocking asking for legal help. Each additional attorney, then, can keep dozens of people in their homes. I strongly suggest that anyone who has extra funds give if they can to local legal aid offices in their states, or even JALA in particular (their donation info can be found at www.jaxlegalaid.com), because this right now is crunch time and a little money can go a long way to helping stop the foreclosure bleeding. I myself am making a donation today.

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