By Jan Pudlow
State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner’s status report on the foreclosure backlog lasted a short and sweet 10 minutes, highlighting how additional resources have moved cases, but more money is needed to finish the job.
“We are clearly making progress and . . . are on target in terms of what we thought the additional resources provided by the Legislature would allow us to do in clearing foreclosure cases,” Goodner told the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on October 8.
A quick snapshot so far this fiscal year, as of August 31, showed 11,431 new filings.
“That is a much reduced number from what the monthly filings have been in the past,” Goodner said.
During those two months, there have been 41,547 dispositions.
“At that rate, we anticipate and believe that we will meet our goal of how many cases we need to dispose of this year, which was about 250,000 — to eliminate the backlog over a three-year period.
“I think all of us heard the press reports that . . . the banks were holding back while they understood the new law that the Legislature had passed and to make sure they had their ducks in a row before they filed additional cases,” Goodner said.
Currently, there are 299,055 pending cases, she said, and that’s 78,652 less than where the courts were in June 2012, when the Foreclosure Backlog Reduction Initiative began.
“We disposed of 276,334, and we had 197,682 new cases coming in.”
Goodner recapped for legislators that she had requested $35 million from the National Mortgage Settlement funds, over a three-year-period to eliminate “the total backlog that we had out there and the new cases we knew were coming our way.”
Instead, the courts received $21.3 million for two years (FY 2013-14 and FY 2014-15), of which $16 million went to additional dockets and enhanced capacity of additional senior judges, magistrates, and case managers; and $5.3 million was used to continue technological enhancements to move judges from working with paper files to electronic files.
But Goodner said, “We will have a LBR (legislative budget request) issue with you when you review the budget to provide additional resources in FY 2014-15 to try to get us back up to the level of funding that we thought we were going to need in that year to dispose of the number of cases necessary to eliminate the backlog within three years.”
In FY 2012-13, the Legislature provided $4 million out of general revenue for new dockets, more senior judges, and more case managers, she said.
In February 2013, the courts received $5 million from the National Mortgage Settlement that went to increase capacity.
In addition to dollars, Goodner said, the court amended the rule to facilitate the use of general magistrates to add to the senior judge mix.
“Most of you know that the senior judges are a very finite resource. About 10 circuits have added general magistrates to the mix and are using some blend of general magistrates and senior judges to help provide judicial resources for these cases,” Goodner said.
“We’ve provided special training to the circuit teams of judges and case managers and magistrates in every circuit to make sure they had the best knowledge on current law and the best case management techniques. We’ve been working on improved performance measures to better and more accurately capture clearance rates, the time it takes to dispose of a case and the age of pending cases.
“One of the priorities for this initiative is for the circuits to go look at those oldest pending cases and focus on getting those cases disposed, because we have cases that have been pending in the system since 2008 and 2009 that need to be addressed. . . .
“And we are implementing the technology to improve the flow of foreclosure cases through the system. That’s an ongoing project we are working on every month. We hope that the implementation of these new technologies will be substantially complete by the end of this fiscal year.”
The only question came from Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Palm Springs: How many dismissals have occurred as a result of "plaintiffs lack of prosecution?"
Goodner said she did not have that number: "But I can provide you with the number of cases that have been dismissed.”
The August 2013 status report for the current fiscal year shows 17,483 cases were dismissed — either before or after hearings — of the total 41,547 cases disposed of during those first two months of FY 2013-14.