Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking Florida’s judges to be mindful of homeowner rights outlined in the National Mortgage Settlement as they push to clear the state’s hefty foreclosure backlog.

The request, made in a Sept. 3 letter to Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston and the state’s chief judges, comes at a time when foreclosure defense attorneys complain the settlement is being ignored in the haste to process cases.

Ironically, it’s millions of dollars from the state’s share of the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement that is helping speed dispositions. The money was used to hire additional senior judges, magistrates and case managers to process foreclosures.

“We have done our best to inform the courts about the requirements of the national mortgage servicing settlement and will continue that dialogue with the judiciary to ensure that homeowners’ rights are protected,” said a statement released by Bondi’s office Tuesday.

It’s “highly, highly unusual” for an attorney general to directly address the judiciary in a letter, said Bob Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern University legal ethics professor. But he doesn’t believe it violates rules regarding separation of government powers if Bondi is just bringing information to the court’s attention.

Attached to the letter is a fact sheet about the settlement. The $25 billion agreement between 49 attorneys general and Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial is in effect until Oct. 4, 2015.

“There’s no encroachment if it’s a matter of information and courtesy,” Jarvis said about the letter.

Foreclosure defense attorneys are concerned that judges are denying requests from banks and homeowners to postpone trials and cancel sales when there are ongoing loan modification negotiations. The settlement requires banks to ask the court to delay a case if a modification or other solution is pending.

Also, there are restrictions in the settlement against dual tracking, which is when a foreclosure continues while a modification is pending, and specific requirements on the kinds of documents banks must have to prove their case.

“I am very defensive of the banks and their attorneys here because they are being forced to violate this agreement by a state court system that is failing to respect the settlement,” said St. Petersburg foreclosure defense attorney Matt Weidner. “And it is certainly true that the 2013 foreclosure purge can be working in direct conflict with the express terms of the National Mortgage Settlement.”

Palm Beach County Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath was unavailable Tuesday, as was Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal, who heads up the county’s foreclosure division.

Chief Judge Steven Levin of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties said the settlement must be obeyed, but that courts also must guard against parties just trying to stall cases.

“We certainly agree if the case is capable of being settled, it should be,” Levin said. “I know we are all on the same page to get these cases resolved.”

National Mortgage Settlement Monitor Joseph Smith has received two complaints about how Florida’s courts are handling the settlement. He said Tuesday he supports and “applauds General Bondi’s efforts” to educate the judiciary.

Judges are in the difficult position of having to protect homeowner rights while also trying to whittle down a backlog of 313,005 foreclosures statewide. Vacant and abandoned foreclosures are a blight on communities trying to recover from the housing crash.

About $21 million became available July 1 to hire additional court resources to reduce the backlog.

“The money provided to Florida by the settlement was supposed to help Floridians, but funding a court system which is expressly forbidding the parties from resolving their differences is madness,” Weidner said.

by Kimberly Miller