Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fighting Back - Collection Dockets of the Poor and Struggling

A few months ago, a relative came to me because he was sued for some credit card debt. The alleged debt was old. The credit card company had sold the debt to some collection company, which had sued my relative. My cases are not usually in associate circuit court, where most of the bill collectors file their claims. Was I surprised by what I discovered!

I was amazed by the sheer number of people in court, many looking poor and bedraggled, in uniforms as cleaning staff, or maintenance workers. I overheard one woman tell her seat neighbor the number of buses she had to transfer to reach the courthouse. The seats were filled by hapless defendants waiting for the judge and the collection lawyer to call their cases. The collection lawyer carried a stack of folders. When each case was called, the lawyer suggested the poor defendant meet him in the hall and work out a deal. Most of the unrepresented hapless defendants accepted the invitation. My heart went out to these people, intimidated by the process, and just trying to put food on their family's table, knowing that they were probably agreeing to having the court enter a judgment, which would result in garnishing of their wages.

When my relative's case was called, I approached the bench and explained to the judge and the lawyer that I wanted to conduct some discovery. I wanted to see the documents that the defendant alleged showed my relative had not paid his bill. I wanted to make my own calculations.

I sent out interrogatories asking questions and requested documents.  A funny thing happened. Instead of getting the background documents verifying my relative owed debt to the collection company, the collection agency DISMISSED THE CASE!  I was shocked. Had the debt been real? Was the collection company pulling a fast one, just thinking these defendants would just go along with them with no proof?  Was this a way to get easy money, garnishing wages and charging high rates of interest, without even presenting proof that money is owed?

I keep thinking about this experience in associate circuit court and the throngs of defendants thinking they are at the mercy of the collectors. I need to go to court and pass out interrogatories and requests for production of documents to these people, who are down on their luck. If they send out the discovery, who knows if the collection companies can even prove they are owed debt or how much?  What would the banks do if their "debtors" are empowered?  I can only hope.

2 comments:

  1. Vernon E. ScovilleJanuary 4, 2016 at 9:02 AM

    Lynne, you are so right. Before, a Judge could look at a file and see that the case is bad, outside the statue of limitations or just wrong and dismiss the case. Now with electronic files the Judge has to make so many clicks that the poor can not be protected. Some banks sell just printouts of a persons name, last known address, amount of the debt the date and the interest rate. No documents. These so called advocates file in the courthouse that is the least convenient to the defendants and hope they don't show. They give the Judge a Judgement and obtain a default with no back up documentation. They set on the file and then have staff look up the person and then execute on their wages. After a year it is almost impossible to try and get the judgement set aside. The Banks in one case sold the names for 3 cents on the dollar. No documents, just a print out. This is so sad. When I was a Judge I asked to see documents from the attorneys, even in default (where the defendant does not come to court). No documents no Judgement. I agree with you 100 percent. These dockets are even worse than the Title Loan or quick case cases as the interest has compounded so much, a person will never pay off the debt.

    I feel for the Judges on these cases. They know what is going on, but can't stop it. When you have 400 cases on a docket, you can not look at each one easily as you have to go to each case electronically. Lynne, you are a good lawyer. This article tore at my heart.

    Vernon E. Scoville
    Retired Associate Circuit Judge

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  2. The Retired Judge explained the scam the best of anyone I have ever seen explain it.

    I agree, if you owe a debt, then you should pay it. But the creditor by law should not be allowed to sell the debit simply because they didn't get paid for it. I have friends who have received phone calls from collectors looking for someone who had their number 10 years ago. Once that phone number gets into the system the new owners of it have no choice but to change numbers or get hassled all the time by someone looking for this person. Our credit system is a mess and too many getting too much credit that can't pay for it. Are collection agencies honest? I have yet to see one that really is and I have observed several in operation having been employed in and with the commercial realty market for many years. It's a legit business turned in to a scam ran by scam artists and lazy lawyers.

    If you owe someone money pay it back and put these clowns and their clown show out of business.

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