Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post

A foreclosure law firm violated state law by charging homeowners for summonses served on “John and Jane Doe” and other unknown parties who may have claims on the property, a Palm Beach County judge has ruled.

It is common practice for law firms to serve foreclosure paperwork on homeowners, as well as separate summonses for “unknown tenant,” or “unknown spouse,” even if the borrower is single and is not renting out the property. The borrower is usually billed for the additional summonses at about $45 each.

Law firms have said the practice is necessary because they need to sue every person or entity who may have a claim on the home in order to ensure clear title at the end of the suit.

But Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown said in a ruling last week there is no legal basis or justification for issuing a summons made out to an unknown party, and that attempts to collect payment on those summonses violates the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

“Further, the court finds that the defendants, who are a law firm and its managing partner, have knowledge of the law and have knowledge that they are attempting to collect a debt that is not legitimate,” the order says.

The ruling was made in the 2009 class action lawsuit of Loxahatchee resident Rory Hewitt vs. the Law Offices of David J. Stern. Once the largest so-called “foreclosure mill” in Florida, Stern’s firm shut down last year after losing clients following the robo-signing scandal and an investigation by the Florida attorney general’s office.

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