FLORIDA - The Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court today ordered judges across the state to stop closing their courtrooms to the public during foreclosure hearings.
The move by Chief Justice Charles Canady is in response to a growing chorus of complaints that banks are sometimes taking short cuts and using questionable documents in foreclosure cases.
It's called the "Rocket Docket" and it was created by the Florida courts to deal with the deluge of foreclosure cases across the state.
In Pinellas and Pasco Counties alone, the courts say, there are a thousand new cases every month. There's a back log of 31,000 foreclosure cases and one of them belongs to Ernie Hassell.
Hassell lost his job and now he's losing his St. Petersburg home.
"To have all that and risk it just going up in vapor is certainly life altering," Hassell says.
Adding insult to injury, Hassel is one of a growing number of people who are discovering the banks are allegedly re-creating the documents needed to get them out of their homes in some cases.
For instance, Hassell and his attorney believe this "Assignment of Mortgage" was created years after discovering the notary who stamped the document didn't witness it being signed and she doesn't know the people who signed it.
"Document Mills across the country are employing officers and agents that purport signing on behalf of corporations that have ceased to exist in many cases before the person signing today," Hassell’s attorney, Matt Weidner says.
One of those so called document mills is Palm Harbor based Nationwide Title Clearing . The company, which isn't involved in Hassel's case, produces mortgage assignments in foreclosure cases around the nation. And while there's nothing illegal about it, Nationwide is coming under intense scrutiny from attorneys specializing in foreclosure defense and here's why.
In a videotaped deposition earlier this month, one of the company's processors Brian Bly, was asked, "What is an assignment of mortgage?” His response? “I have no idea."
Despite not even knowing what an assignment of mortgage actually is, he signs thousands of them a day. "I would say 5,000," Bly testified.
Bly isn't charged with anything. In a statement to ABC Action News , Bly says he wants to correct his testimony saying, "I know exactly what the purpose and types of documents are that I have signed."
But this is what has so many specializing in foreclosure defense outraged. Bly, signed these documents, obtained by ABC Action News, at different times as Vice President of FDIC, VP of CITI Residential Lending, Assistant VP of Washington Mutual, just to name a few companies.
"Do you play any role in the creation of how any documents your signature is electronically affixed?” Bly was asked. “Not at all," he responded.
"Do you ever review those electronic documents after your signature has been affixed?” Bly was then asked. “No," he responded.
Bly says he's had some industry and on the job training.
Nationwide Title Clearing wouldn't talk to us on camera but in a lengthy statement the company tells us its practices "Have been found in court to be legal."
At a meeting earlier this month foreclosure lawyers complained to a panel of judges from Pinellas and Pasco their efforts to challenge documents are routinely shot down by "Rocket Docket" judges charged with getting through foreclosure cases as quickly as possible.
"Sure we're skeptical, but we still have to rule on what's there before us in any particular case,” says Judge Thomas McGrady, Chief Judge of Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
Ernie Hassell is desperately trying to save his home of 15-years and he believes the banks are not playing by what he thinks should be the rules.
"Something needs to be done and the problem isn't just Ernie but when you stack up hundreds of thousands of Ernie’s then you really have a big issue," Hassell says.
The Florida Attorney General's Office is currently investigating a number of law firms and companies suspected of falsifying documents on a large scale basis. In the meantime, the Chief Judge of Pinellas and Pasco says his judges are now being forced to hold more hearings resulting in a longer back log of foreclosure cases.