Florida Bankruptcy Courts
Mortgage Modification Summit


By Tammy Branson, Certified Bankruptcy Assistant, Senior Paralegal at Branson Law PLLC, Orlando, FL

The first Florida Statewide Mortgage Modification Summit was held on February 27, 2014, in Orlando in an effort to develop uniform mediation programs across the state. Florida is the first state in the nation to have mandatory mediation programs for mortgage modifications available in all of its bankruptcy courts. The summit was moderated by Liz McCausland, Esquire of Orlando.

The event was a huge success with over 145 in attendance. Attendees included nine bankruptcy judges and each Chief Judge of the three districts: Chief Judge Karen S. Jennemann of the Middle District, Chief Judge Karen Species of the Northern District and Chief Judge Paul Hyman of the Southern District. Also attending were seven of the eight Chapter 13 Trustees in Florida, an Indiana Chapter 13 trustee, all three of the district’s Clerks of Court, lender representatives from Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, Nationstar, Ocwen, Citimortgage and Central Mortgage, debtor attorneys from Florida, Tennessee and Indiana, creditor attorneys from Florida, Iowa, South Carolina and Dallas, as well as mediators and staff.

Prior to the Summit, Chapter 13 Trustee, Laurie K. Weatherford of the Middle District, Orlando Division, set up a website, www.mortgagemodsummit.com to allow parties to post questions or concerns about the programs. Additionally working groups were formed to post “white papers” and asked for perspectives and recommendations from all parties involved in the process.

The “white papers” representing the Trustee perspective were written by Doug Neway of the Middle District, Jacksonville Division. Kevin Hing and Kevin Comer of Tampa wrote the white paper representing the Creditor perspective. Robert and Tammy Branson of Orlando Florida, Mitch Nowack of West Palm Beach/Ft. Lauderdale and Rob McDaniels of Pensacola wrote the white paper representing the Debtor Attorney perspective. Todd Budgen of Orlando drafted the white paper for the mediator focus group.

At the Summit there were panels representing each district around the state with lively discussions and questions from the audience on how the programs are handled now and what can be done to be more uniform across the State. Lenders, debtor and creditor attorneys, mediators and Chapter 13 trustees expressed ideas they believed would make the process smoother and encouraged uniformity so that all parties could comply with mediation orders and successfully modify mortgages for qualifying debtors.

Discussion topics included: “When should a motion for referral be filed? What information should be contained in the motion and order of referral to mediation?;” “Should the use of a portal be required to effectively exchange information?”; “ What is a reasonable no-look fee?”; “ How much is adequate protection and should the payments be paid through the plan by the Chapter 13 Trustee?”; “ Why is the success so much higher in the bankruptcy court programs versus state foreclosure mortgage mediations in Florida?”

The Middle and Southern Districts keep statistics and shared that the success of debtors receiving a loan modification through mediation has averaged over 70% in both districts. The state program has a dismal success rate of less than 4%. Among many other factors, the “good faith” element in bankruptcy was mentioned.

At the end of the Summit it was agreed that the website should remain up and available for all interested parties to post ideas or concerns either by name or anonymously. Please visit www.mortgagemodsummit.com learn more or to share your concerns.

The Judges meet that night for dinner and discussed uniform procedures and are currently coming to a consensus which will be announced soon.

We are seeing bankruptcy courts in Florida make a real difference in real time in saving homes and our communities. This is unique in dealing with a widespread social problem that needs prompt resolution. We hope other bankruptcy courts across the nation will take the initiative to address this compelling social issue as well.

Please feel free to contact Laurie Weatherford, Chapter 13 Trustee at Lauriew@c13orl.com, Robert Branson atRobert@bransonlaw.com, Tammy Branson at Tammy@bransonlaw.com or Liz McCausland at Liz@lizlawfirm.com.