Reacting to reports of barriers to attending foreclosures hearings, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a memorandum Wednesday directing all judicial circuit chief judges to ensure public access.
The American Civil Liberties Union, news media groups and other parties complained Monday that judges, bailiffs and other court officers are turning away the public and media with excuses such as foreclosure hearings are only for attorneys.
“The people of Florida are entitled to know what takes place in the courts of this state,” Canady said in a response to Sam Morley, general counsel for the Florida Press Association. “No crisis justifies the administrative suspension of the strong legal presumption that state court proceedings are open to the public.”
Canady instructed the state’s 20 chief judges to examine current practices and remind judges and court staffers that visitors and callers must be given correct information about attending foreclosure hearings.
ACLU attorney Larry Schwartztol said the directive reflects how seriously Canady takes the state’s commitment to open courts. Canady also reminded judges that the goal of clearing 62 percent of the massive foreclosure backlog with the funds provided during the 2010 legislative session was a goal, not a quota.
“There is no reason why the 62 percent goal should interfere with a judge’s ability to adjudicate each case fairly on its merits,” he said.
His comment was an affirmation of the position taken Oct. 28 by John F. Laurent, chair of the state Trial Court Budget Commission. The 62 percent goal was based on funding 62 percent of the original request.
In the grips of a foreclosure rate that has stretched courts over the past two years, critics charge judges have taken shortcuts to expedite cases.
Adolfo Pesquera can be reached at (954) 347-2616.