Published: November 18, 2010 Updated: 07:41 am
DADE CITY – Pasco County Circuit Judge Susan Gardner decided to take a closer look at her foreclosure cases after law firms were accused recently of overbilling and forging documents.
She doesn’t like what she’s finding – a mountain of fees to serve notice of foreclosure lawsuits to homeowners and to people who don’t exist.
“Routinely, routinely, I’m seeing charges of $1,600, $1,800, $1,000, $800, any of those are ridiculous, and there had better be a good reason for it,” Gardner said, noting that these fees should typically be $45 to a couple hundred bucks.
The judge chose 12 random files and said she found 11 of them had what she says appear to be inflated charges to serve homeowners with lawsuits. Some of the lawyers who submitted affidavits to the court saying the fees are “reasonable” often sign their names and bar numbers in an illegible scribble, court records show.
“I used to think this was just sloppy work, but I truly have begun to wonder if it’s not concealment,” Gardner said.
The files in question involve two of the law firms that are currently under investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s Office for submitting fabricated or misleading documents in foreclosure cases.
Gardner plastered files with adhesive notes detailing her concerns and drew unhappy faces on beside fees. She issued orders this week requiring five lawyers from the firms to appear in court early next month and explain the fees and signatures. If they fail to show up, they could be arrested.
“I don’t want to throw anybody in jail, but I’m getting really angry, and I’m not going to tolerate it anymore,” Gardner said. “I want some answers. This stuff isn’t getting through on my watch.”