ACLU Appeals Gag Order on Homeowner's Attorney
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 9, 2010
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SARASOTA, Fla. – The ACLU of Florida, on behalf of attorney Christopher Forrest and The Forrest Law Firm, today asked Florida's Second District Court of Appeal to reverse an injunction directing Forrest and the Forrest Law Firm to remove video depositions of mortgage "robo-signers" from YouTube, and barring Forrest and others from distributing or disseminating the depositions.
The gag order placed on Forrest came just days after Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Canady ordered all foreclosure courts to be completely transparent and allow proceedings to be accessible. Justice Canady's statement was released after the ACLU sent a letter demanding more transparency in Florida's "Foreclosure Courts." The letter was co-signed by the Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Society of News Editors, the Florida Press Association, the Florida Times-Union newspaper and the First Amendment Foundation.
"Putting the videotaped depositions of "robo-signers" on YouTube gives the world an opportunity to see how the practices of banks and title companies are affecting homeowners facing serious financial problems," said Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida Executive Director. "This is a public service that shouldn't be subject to a court-imposed gag order."
Mr. Forrest represents homeowners Peter and Barbara Morlon in a foreclosure proceeding in Sarasota. To discover the facts of the foreclosure process, Mr. Forrest, with the court's permission, took video depositions of three employees of National Title Company (NTC) who have, by many accounts, functioned as "robo-signers" of foreclosure documents.
The term "robo-signing" refers to the practice of mortgage loan servicers filing affidavits with a court in a foreclosure case without confirming their accuracy. Many of these employees "spend their day signing one affidavit after another, raising questions about whether they could possibly attest to knowing the facts claimed in each document." (See Martin, All 50 States Start Inquiry into Foreclosures, N.Y. Times, Oct. 13, 2010, available at http://goo.gl/L5dVC)
After the depositions concluded, Mr. Forrest uploaded them to YouTube and shared them with other attorneys defending homeowners facing foreclosure to provide them with vital information about practices that have been reported to be endemic in the foreclosure industry.
NTC obtained a temporary injunction, without the presence of Forrest or his clients that ordered Forrest to remove the videotaped depositions from YouTube. The injunction directed Forrest, the Forrest Law Firm, and anyone acting with Forrest to refrain from further publication of the videotaped depositions on the Internet and requiring him to remove them from YouTube.
The brief filed today by the ACLU of Florida seeks to overturn that gag order and restore Mr. Forrest's right to freely distribute legally obtained information about "robo-signing" and the foreclosure process.
"This order is a prior restraint on free speech and the publication of sworn testimony that was lawfully obtained and involves a matter of significant public concern, in Florida and nationally," stated ACLU cooperating attorney Andrea Mogensen. "According to a recent report by a Congressional Oversight Panel, the process of robo-signing and other irregularities in the foreclosure process may call into question as many as 33 million mortgages nationwide."
A copy of the appeal filed today can be found here: www.aclufl.org/pdfs/foreclosure_sarasota_complaint.pdf