September 5, 2013 09:00AM
By MICHELLE R. SMITH
PROVIDENCE — A federal judge on Tuesday lifted a blanket order that had stopped hundreds of Rhode Island foreclosures from moving forward and had sent the cases first to mediation.
U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell said he was reluctantly lifting his injunction because “his bosses” at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in June that he did not follow the proper procedures in his order, which affected all mortgage foreclosure cases in federal court in Rhode Island.
Amid the economic slump and years of high unemployment, the state has seen a crush of foreclosures. In his 2011 order, McConnell halted all foreclosure cases before the court, suspended all deadlines and required homeowners and financial institutions to engage in “directed and serious settlement discussions” before he would allow any individual case to proceed. He appointed a special master to oversee mediation. Since then, the number of cases before the court has grown to 825.
McConnell wrote on Tuesday that he was bound by the 1st Circuit’s ruling, but still believes it would be best for homeowners and banks to find solutions without homeowners facing the threat of being evicted from their homes.
He said he hoped financial institutions would continue to forego their right to foreclose and evict homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments until after all other avenues are exhausted.
“It is in all parties’ and the court’s best interest to have the parties talk to each other in a meaningful way and to attempt to amicably resolve these matters,” he wrote.
McConnell said he would look more closely at a handful of individual cases before deciding how to move forward with the other 800-plus cases.
He also said he would meet with lawyers for homeowners and financial institutions to discuss how to handle the mediation program. Meanwhile, the program will continue, he said.
Special Master Merrill Sherman would not comment Tuesday.
Corey Allard, an attorney in a law office that represents most of the homeowners who sued financial institutions, said that they were disappointed at the judge’s decision.
“The banks are going to be allowed to foreclose on our clients,” Allard said.
He said that several mediations were scheduled in the cases this week and next.
“We’re hopeful that the defendants are going to be reasonable and work with our clients towards loan modifications,” he said.
Three lawyers for financial institutions did not return messages seeking comment.