Nearly a third of Palm Beach County’s foreclosure cases are three-years-old or older, a timeframe that far exceeds a state goal of finishing civil proceedings within 18 months, according to a new report on Florida’s courts.

The Foreclosure Initiative Workgroup, which issued the report, was formed in January to find the barriers to faster foreclosures and to make recommendations on how to streamline the process.

Composed of judges and court administrators, the group looked at staffing levels, the number of reopened foreclosure cases and the age of pending cases.

A Florida court rule sets a time standard of 18 months to finish a jury case and 12 months for non-jury cases.

More than half of Palm Beach County foreclosure cases — 51 percent — have been in the system two or more years, the report found.

Statewide, nearly 42 percent of foreclosures have been pending for more than two years.

“Delays are created in the processing of other types of civil cases when court resources are redirected to foreclosure cases,” the report notes.

But judges have limited power over the two “fundamental” barriers to processing cases faster — banks delaying moving cases forward and paperwork and procedural problems that continue to exist.

“Judges report that it is challenging to resolve some foreclosure cases because the parties do not want or are not prepared to proceed,” the report says. “Dismissing a case for failure to prosecute is only a temporary solution, because the plaintiff can then re-file the case if the plaintiff wants to foreclose on the property.”

Also, the report found that cases are increasingly being reopened after a final judgment is issued, possibly to cancel and reschedule sale dates of properties.

In Palm Beach County there were nearly as many reopened cases in 2012 as there were newly filed. About 13,500 new cases were filed, while 13,389 cases were reopened.

Statewide, 186,651 cases were newly filed and 156,069 reopened.

The workgroup’s recommendations included increasing cleared cases by using magistrates as well as senior judges, and using more technology that will allow judges to view documents electronically.

As of February, there were an estimated 358,000 foreclosure cases pending in Florida’s 20 circuit courts. The Office of the State Courts Administrator predicts an additional 680,000 will be filed by 2016.

by Kimberly Miller