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Florida courts see process server problems in foreclosure cases

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A longtime Florida judge is confirming that previously reported problems with process serving is cropping up in the state's courtrooms. Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey hears thousands of foreclosures cases each month in Miami-Dade County, an area hit hard in the foreclosure crisis. She also served on the Florida Supreme Court's mortgage foreclosure task force in 2009. The judge, who has spent 17 years on the bench, said she believes some process service companies are lying on the affidavits based on borrowers' contentions of never having been served. Service of process is a legal requirement in which the homeowner is notified in writing of the lender's intention to start foreclosure proceedings. Document problems in foreclosure cases have led to revelations about people "robo-signing" documents, a 50-state investigation by state attorneys general and a brief foreclosure moratorium by banks Ally Financial (GJM: 22.10 -0.05%), JPMorgan Chase (JPM: 37.56 +0.05%) and Bank of America (BAC: 11.545 +0.04%). "Service of process is an essential act to commencing a lawsuit," Bailey said. "When people lie to us about this, judges tend to get extremely concerned." In most cases, the borrower only appears in court 5% to 7% of the time, Bailey said, but noted that in recent weeks more borrowers have been showing up for court hearings although she didn't say whether she thought that was due to increased media attention on problems with foreclosure documents. When they don't show up, the judge relies on the affidavit submitted by the process server verifying service was done. If false information is contained in the affidavit, the judge would have no way of knowing, she said.  The only way to catch these issues is when the homeowner appears in court. Eric Johnson, past president of the Texas Process Servers Association and current chairman of the group's legislative committee, said recent negative media reports about problems don't reflect the industry as a whole. "There's a lot of dedicated people in this industry," Johnson said. "All it takes is one person to give a black eye to the industry." The TPSA is under the authority of the Texas Supreme Court and Johnson said the review board deals with violations harshly. They can also be referred to district attorneys for possible prosecution. Sarah Mueller is an editorial assistant with HousingWire.

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