A pile of foreclosure papers threatens to topple a downtown Miami courthouse

There was a time — say, last summer — when no clerk wanted to enter a certain room on the 15th floor of 140 W. Flagler St., a drab Miami-Dade County municipal building downtown. Inside lurked a multiton beast made of dead trees: the collection of pending foreclosure case files for the county. Since the economy began its nosedive, roughly 8,000 foreclosures have been filed per month, which is about the number the county used to have in a year, according to Clerk of the Courts Harvey Ruvin: "We have 125,000 open files. If you piled all of them on top of each other, it would make a 24-story building."

"You could hear the floors creaking under all the weight," says a female clerk who asked not to be named. "Everybody was joking about how if one of us fell through that floor, it would be the lawsuit of the century."

While county honchos acknowledge the file room was overflowing, getting them to admit it was swaying like a drunken commissioner isn't an easy task. There might have been a "weight issue," hedges the clerk's office civil division chief, Shirley Shabazz, who admits the room was "becoming a less-than-ideal filing area."

Nonetheless, last July, the clerk's employees began moving the files the half-block to a scavenged judge's quarters on the seventh floor of 73 W. Flagler St., a task they didn't complete until February.

But the insatiable monster has continued to grow, and Shabazz says of the new file room: "It's getting unruly in there."

"It's going to blow," says an older female clerk, who, like her colleague, requested anonymity. "You go in there? Do a Hail Mary first."

Ruvin is counting on a 2-month-old online foreclosure auction system to speed up the process and save his employees from the growing paper bog. Count among his disbelievers Luis Garcia, a public records researcher and entrenched courthouse denizen. He points at missing stone tablets on the exterior of 73 W. Flagler, nets installed to catch decaying pieces of the building, and a chain-link fence blocking pedestrians from falling debris. "Doesn't it look like it's made out of broken Legos?" he posits. "This whole freakin' building is coming down!"

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Gus Garcia-Roberts