Overwhelmed Illinois Court Postpones Foreclosures Until September

Citing a backbreaking caseload of foreclosures, the court serving the nation’s second-most populous county has decided to postpone most foreclosures until September, while it attempts to work through tens of thousands of existing filings. Cook County, Illinois is home to Chicago and surrounding areas — and is also traditionally a foreclosure hotspot. Last year, the county saw 43,876 mortgage foreclosure filings at the Cook County Circuit Court, a number the court said it expects to rise to more than 63,000 cases pending by the end of this year. As a result, the court says it has assigned 11 additional judges to manage foreclosure hearings, while allocating 6 additional courtrooms to cover rising volumes of filings. Eleven additional law clerks and four additional secretaries have been hired to assist those judges managing foreclosure cases, according to a general administrative order issued April 1 and reviewed by HousingWire. Despite the additions, the court has been unable to manage an influx of foreclosures — a cautionary tale that sources in the banking industry say is playing out in other jurisdictions across the nation, as well. In Cook County, each foreclosure judge with a full foreclosure calendar is assigned roughly 4,800 mortgage foreclosure cases. The volume “has made it difficult” for the court to manage all the cases, it said. “In order for the Court to concentrate its resources on resolving the older pending mortgage foreclosure cases on the docket, it is necessary to defer the scheduling of Judgments of Foreclosure and Sale, with the exception of Consent Foreclosures, and to defer the scheduling of Orders Approving Sale in cases filed in 2009,” the consent order reads. Under the administrative order from Presiding Judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird, most foreclosure cases filed this year in Cook County will be suspended until the end of August, while the court schedules a series of hearings on all foreclosures filed prior to 2009 that remain unresolved. The only exception to this rule that will allow a foreclosure to proceed is any case where a property has been verified as both vacant and abandoned, according to the administrative order. The court said it will begin scheduling a series of so-called “calendar calls” on existing foreclosure cases during the months of July and August, during which time all foreclosures will be paused in order to allow judges to focus on prioritizing an existing caseload. The challenges being faced in Cook County mirror the challenges being faced in numerous courtrooms, particularly in hard-hit California and Florida. Attorneys in both states suggested to HousingWire that case delays can run well into the months in most cases, in certain jurisdictions. One attorney warned that the problem might be set to get worse, as Congress looks to pass legislation that would allow so-called “cramdowns” of mortgage debt during a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing. “If they think the caseload is bad now,” he said, “what are they going to do when borrowers flood the system with BKs, looking for a loan mod? Who will be able to manage that?” According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Cook County has 5,285,107 residents, which is larger than the populations of 29 individual U.S. states, the combined populations of the six smallest U.S. states, and home to 43.3% of Illinois residents. Write to Paul Jackson at [email protected].

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