Lawyers and litigants line up on Tuesday in the civil term of Brooklyn Supreme Court for a calendar call to dismiss cases that have inactive for several months. The mass dismissal includes 1,600 foreclosure cases, which has raised concerns for homeowners’ advocates.
Dismissal of a foreclosure proceeding may seem like welcome news to a homeowner, but a mass dismissal in Brooklyn Supreme Court of 1,600 foreclosure cases has drawn fire from advocates who said it could leave some homeowners more vulnerable to eviction.
The foreclosure cases were included in a purge of some 6,500 cases filed before Jan. 1, 2016, in which no activity had been reported since Sept. 30, 2016, and no future court appearance dates had been placed on the calendar.
There was confusion and irritation among the hundreds of lawyers and litigants who showed for the calendar call on Tuesday afternoon in the Brooklyn Supreme Court Civil Term, who stood in a line that snaked from a courtroom on the main floor at 360 Adams St., out the door and nearly to the street.
Several attorneys there described the procedure for Tuesday's calendar call as "unprecedented," noting the longer-than-usual queue and the absence of a list of cases posted outside the courtroom that have been placed on the chopping block.
"I think they're asking for trouble with this kind of thing," said Ndukwe Agwu, senior staff attorney at the consumer and economic advocacy program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A.
Some attorneys said they received word about the dismissals via a little-noticed announcement first published on page 11 of the April 27 edition of the Law Journal; some attorneys for homeowners said the purge was called to their attention by clients who received "intent to prosecute" letters from lenders' attorneys and not by any notices received by their clients.
"It's kind of an embarrassment to the judiciary," said Jacob Inwald, director of foreclosure prevention for Legal Services NYC, who was part of a group of attorneys who took posts at the courthouse to offer assistance to befuddled litigants.
The cases were slated for administrative dismissal; for foreclosure cases, that would mean homeowners with asserted defenses against lenders would have their cases thrown out and that the statute-of-limitations clock for lenders to file new actions would be reset.
"The baby is being thrown out with the bath water if you're dismissing the entire cases," Inwald said.
The notice of the calendar call stated anyone with cases that fit the dismissal criteria who wanted to keep them open could do so by May 1, but Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the court system, said on Tuesday that any litigant who wants their case restored could do so without prejudice.
In a letter to Public Advocate Letitia James, who also expressed concerns about the mass dismissal, Justice Lawrence Knipel, the administrative judge for civil matters in Brooklyn Supreme Court, said that notices of the dismissal were also posted in the courthouse and that bar associations throughout the city were contacted.
Knipel also said the calendar call was not intended to apply to pro se litigants and that it was intended to target matters that appear "resolved or abandoned."
But in a statement from her office, James said she is "extremely troubled" by the dismissals.
"In an effort to eliminate backlog the court is in fact undermining due process to some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers who rely on the courts to secure justice," James said. "The implications of this action will harm thousands of lives."
Chalfen said the calendar call was part of an effort to expunge "dead cases," noting that eliminating towering backlogs has been a stated goal for many segments of the court system. According to figures that Chalfen provided to the Law Journal, the number of pending cases on the foreclosure docket in Brooklyn fell from 11,594 in 2015 to 8,626 this year.
Last year, Knipel consolidated foreclosure proceedings, which had been spread out among 27 judges, to funnel cases to three judges, a move that also raised the concerns of homeowners' advocates. http://www.newyorklawjournal.c...ndex=1&curpage=2