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.