Monday, February 20, 2012

Lawyers Troll Court Files Looking for Judgments Not Shown as Satisfied; Small Claims Court Litigants are Particularly Vulnerable to Questionable Practice

The Indianapolis Star has a lengthy story today talking about issues with Marion County's township small claims court system.  Most cases heard in those township courts, which aren't courts of record, are collection cases.

The Supreme Court has set a task force to study possible changes to the Marion County Small Claims Courts.  Public hearings on the matter will be at three locations:
Perry Twp - 2/22/12 (Wednesday) at 6 pm
Small Claims Court, 4925 Shelby Street, Indianapolis
Pike Twp - 2/29/12 (Wednesday) at 6pm
Small Claims Court, 5665 Lafayette Road, Suite B, Indianapolis
Marion Circuit Court - 3/7/12 (Wednesday) at 6pm
Marion Circuit Courtroom, 200 E. Washington Street #W122, Indianapolis
I write additionally though to express concern about a practice of collection attorneys that I'm starting to see.  Last Thursday morning I was in one of the donut counties on a collection matter that involved unpaid trailer park rent of approximately $5,000 that was litigated in 2003 and concluded with the trailer owner, my now client, agreeing to give her trailer to the park to cover the debt.  (The trailer was actually worth much more than the debt owed.)  The parties at the time didn't show the trailer was given in complete satisfaction of the debt in the court records, and as a result 8 years plus later the trailer owner is being dragged back into court on a proceeding supplemental to pay the debt.

When I received the case, I had the strong suspicion that the collection law firm had gone looking for cases, found a satisfaction of debt wasn't shown in this particular file, and offered to the trailer park owner to go after the debtor, likely on a contingency basis.

Later that same day, I was before one of Marion County Small Claims court judges who mentioned that an attorney had been spent all day combing through his files.  I have no doubt what the attorney was doing ...the attorney was looking for judgments on collection cases where the judgement did not show as satisfied in the court records.

Those experiences are consistent with another one I wrote about a couple years ago.  A client of mine several years earlier had a lawsuit filed against him by a medical provider for an unpaid medical bill of approximately $500.  The medical provider received a judgment from the Decatur Township Small Claims Court and his wages were garnished to pay it. The garnishment is reflected in the court's file.  However, nothing was filed in the Decatur Township Small Claims Court showing the judgment had been paid off through the garnishment.  Years later a collection attorney, who frequents the Decatur Township Court, is scouring the file, sees no satisfaction of the judgement, and asks that the court issue a new judgment.  You would think the burden would be on the medical provider to show the garnishment failed to cover the amount of the judgment.   But no, the medical provider's attorney got the judgment issued again as if no garnishment ever happened, but this time the judgment came with several years additional interest.

The fact is in small claims courts, debtors, often representing themselves, do not know the importance of filing paperwork with the court to show the judgment satisfied.  That is usually left up to the creditor's attorney who doesn't really have an incentive to do that.  The failure to file that satisfaction of judgment paperwork though leaves open the possibility that a collection law firm, years later, will look at that file and go after that debtor yet again.  Given the advantages collection attorneys have in Marion County Small Claims courts, one should not bet that that attempt won't be successful.  Small claims court judges need to insist that final paperwork is done in these collection cases and that satisfaction of judgments" are noted in the court files so that the debtors are not made the target of collection efforts years later by attorneys trolling for work.


Geoff Granfield said...

I can really recall the moment my boss took me to the side and informed me the government would definitely begin garnishing my paycheck. I was indeed in shock. I was allocated an allowance, perhaps it looked like it, out of my hard-earned profit, and all I could possibly do was take it because I was unable to reply to many of the IRS letters I received beforehand. Don't waste time to handle your tax debt.

Joe anderson said...

While tax liens don't take revenue from you directly, they can stop you from securing capital, which includes loans, and funding significant expenses. Yet, the loss of your savings account, or seeing your take-home paycheck decline each week can be more financially devastating to begin with. Get the information regarding levies here:

bethmontera said...

Possible. Questions arises with this issues. It may take time to be reviewed.

6pete6smith6 said...

Worst court, Worst Judge. He needs to be off the bench or retire. Judge Hockman is taking kick backs from the attorneys and Judge Hockman always sides with the collection attorney's that charge and obtain huge collection fee's. Decatur citizens, this Judge doesn't rule for the people and here's an glimpse of what he did in Marion County; "Myron Hockman, Prosecutor's office thought the 911 tape of a pleading, crying, and begging for help was nothing but laughable. Myron Hockman actually laughed at the tapes..."
The collection attorney's are nothing but bottom feeders, feeding off the poor. Judge Hockman and the collection attorney's are unethical. three cases filed in federal court in Indianapolis involve a plaintiff who lives in Hendricks County but was sued in Decatur Township because of the kickbacks going to the Judge from the attorney's.
The Judge would not even listen to reasons the plantiffs tried to explain, the Judge always ruled in favor of the collection agency on all cases that day.
That's who is working in our community. Disgusting.