Overcoming Default Judgments in Debt Cases

This is a companion to the video, “Procedure for Moving to Vacate Default Judgments.” This video explains why you should try to vacate (remove) a default judgment against you and generally how to go about doing it. The second video goes into a little more detail on that and tells you specifically what documents you will  need to file and what they should contain. If you have defaulted on a debt suit and want to try to reopen it (to prevent collection), check out our product: Motion to Vacate Pack. For a more comprehensive understanding of the debt law and defense, you need our Debt Defense System.

We categorize this video under “collection” because often the way people discover there’s been a default judgment is that there is some action to garnish wages or collect on the judgment. If that’s your situation, it isn’t too late. To prevent the collection/garnishment, you will need to get the judgment against you vacated (eliminated). And the very first step in doing that is finding out what happened. To do that, you will go to the court, look up the judgment, get the file on it, and look in the file to see what happened.

It gets a little more complicated than that after you find out what happened, but there are actions you can take, and our job is to help you figure out which and to do them.

 

What to Do If You’ve Got Debt Troubles

If your bills are adding up and the bill collectors are beginning to bug you, you need to start taking action to protect yourself.

This video goes through the reasons you should win if you get sued for debt and begins the discussion on how to send the right signals to the debt collectors to leave you alone.

 

What if I Think I Owe the Money?

What if I Really Owe the Money – or Think I Do?

What if you think you really owe the money? Should you defend yourself? Here’s why you must defend yourself. If you don’t you run the risk of having to pay twice. And if you do defend yourself, you probably won’t have to pay. If that bothers you, give the money to somebody who really needs it.

Most People Being Sued Actually DO Owe Someone Some Money

If you’re being sued by a debt collector, you probably think you owe them the money, although it’s surprising how often people who do NOT owe anybody any money get sued. If that’s you – you still need to fight the case, it won’t go away by itself. But if you actually do owe somebody the money for which you are being sued, you still need to be careful.

And you should still defend yourself as well as you can.

You must make the debt collector prove every part of its case – not only that you owe the money, but that you owe it to them. And exactly how much you supposedly owe. That’s because old debts get sold – often more than once – and if you don’t make the debt collector prove it owns the debt, you may pay the wrong person. And then you might have to pay again if you get sued by the person that actually owns the debt.

In addition, most people who get sued for debts do not owe what the debt collectors are trying to collect. They routinely add fees and interest they should not, and consumer protections agencies and organizations routinely estimate that almost all debt collection suits include extra charges – and many of them are for far more than is owed.

“Double-Banging”

Because of the extremely lax regulation of debt collectors, and the frequent erosion of those regulations that do exist, debt collectors develop many dirty tricks. One of the dirtiest is known as “double-banging.” This is the repeated collection of the same debt by the same debt collector.  You may wonder how such a thing is possible, and it would be difficult, no doubt, if these double-bangers didn’t have a couple of things going for them.

One thing that makes double-banging easier is “spoofing.” That’s a technology that allows debt collectors to cause your phone to think the phone call is coming from another number, usually a local exchange. Thus, while your phone tells you the call is from your own telephone area code, it’s actually originating far away. And of course the debt collectors often change their names – not just the people calling, but the companies they’re supposedly representing. So you are receiving a call from a company that already collected from you, and now it is collecting the same debt again under another name. And they don’t necessarily wait till you have paid the debt off the first time, either. In one known case, a debt collector collected the same debt TEN times.

And that was without even suing the victim. They can do that, too.

Ultimately, what makes all this possible is that people let it happen. That is, they get scared, or feel guilty, or get angry… any number of feelings cause you to relax your guard, and then they get you. Instead of requiring them to provide proof, you’re asking how to pay.

And once they get you, you go on a “sucker list.” That’s just what you probably think it is – a list of people who will fall for various scams. Debt collectors sometimes trade these sucker lists to each other, so after one of them has collected as much as possible, they trade your name to another who will do the same thing.

The Good News

The good news about debt collectors is that they usually CANNOT prove their cases if you make put them to the test. The whole process by which they get these debts is so sloppy and careless that they usually cannot find or obtain the proof that they need to win their case. IF you defend yourself.

Protect Your Rights

Our mission is to protect people from the debt collection process. If you are being sued by debt collectors, or if you are being harassed for money, you need to take action to defend what’s yours. For much more information on defending yourself, go to Fast Track to Debt Defense.

Self-Representation in Debt Litigation – Pro Se is Easier than you Think

Although hiring a lawyer might be the “gold standard” of defense, lawyers are always expensive. If you’re being sued by a debt collector and can’t afford a lawyer, all is not lost. You CAN represent yourself. This is not complicated law, debt collectors are not innovative or particularly energetic, and the debt collection system is a “factory” approach not designed to work against people who defend themselves intelligently. You can do it.

Okay – maybe debt defense isn’t always very fun. In fact, most of the time it isn’t exactly fun, but it is easier than you expect, and winning is great. Going from the threat of having to pay (somehow) from $1,000 to $50,000 to some debt collector, to having them drop the case – or to settling with you for pennies on the dollar… that’s fun, and it changes the way you look at debt and debt law forever.

Pro se legal representation means representing yourself rather than hiring a lawyer to do it for you. You have the right to do that in essentially any court proceeding, whether as defendant or plaintiff, and whether the matter is civil (for money) or criminal. Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself,” and you will sometimes see it called propria persona (abbreviated to “pro per”). In England and Wales, the comparable status is called “litigant in person.”

Some Think It’s Scary

Although many people fear the thought of representing themselves in court, pro se representation is not rare. According to National Center on State Courts in 1991-92 71% of domestic relations (family law) cases had at least one unrepresented party, and in 18% of the cases both parties were pro se.  It is a growing trend in debt collection law as well as family law and other matters.

The right of self-representation has long been established in the United States. It predates even the ratification of the Constitution, as Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789—enacted by the first Congress and signed by President Washington, states that, “in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.” Most states have a similar constitution provision.

Will the Courts Protect You from Mistakes?

The California rules of Civil Procedure explicitly express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this rule with the argument that “Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee.” And the Council suggests “the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial.”

Although most states and the federal courts share this bias in favor of hearing courts on “their merits,” (based on what is actually fair), pro se litigants cannot rely on any special treatment. Some courts explicitly will not extend favorable treatment to non-professional litigants.

Pro Se Litigants Often Do Very Well

They may not need any extra help. According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law, criminal defendants are “not necessarily ill-served” by the decision to represent themselves. In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies probably fared much better than represented defendants. Of the 234 pro se defendants studied by Ms. Hashimoto, “just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge….for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge.” And just 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, whereas 63 percent of represented defendants in Ms. Hashimoto’s study did. In federal court…the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.

Of course there could well be other important variables that the Hashimoto study did not include, but it seems clear that there is nothing like an “automatic penalty” for daring to represent yourself. And as I have pointed out many times elsewhere, there are certain types of cases and situations where pro se representation may actually be an advantage. In debt collection cases, for example, the economic factors often outweigh legal issues, and a vigorous pro se defendant can gain a significant advantage by being able to take energetic steps in his or her favor that a lawyer—always on the clock—would pragmatically be unable to take.

Courts are not always favorable to self-represented people for various reasons, but even with that bias, pro se plaintiffs have recorded some significant victories in civil courts. For example, Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who won more than $10 million from Ford for patent infringement; Reginald and Roxanna Bailey, a married couple, together won $140,000 from Allstate Insurance in a federal jury trial in Missouri, and George Cofield, a janitor, won $30,000 from the City of Atlanta in 1980. Among others. Pro se defendants encounter fewer prejudices and have many more victories. These victories often occur in less easily reportable fashion, being simply the unheralded dismissal of a debt collection action.

Pro Se Representation in Debt Collection Cases

As pointed out above, defendants in debt collection cases have some significant economic advantages in conducting their cases. They also have fewer of the disadvantages that many other types of cases have. This may simply be because debt collection cases tend to be document-intensive rather than witness-intensive. In the somewhat unusual case which actually goes to trial, the court is confronted with basic evidentiary questions: can the debt collector produce enough evidence? And is it “admissible” in court for the court’s consideration? Little finesse is required.

This basic legal simplicity, the fact that debt defendants were obviously brought before the court against their wishes, and the general economic difference between typical debt defendants and plaintiffs often seem to create a favorable impression on the judges.

Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of roadmap to what you need to do and how, take a look at our Personalized Evaluation product. If you’re being sued and already know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get out Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

If you are being contacted by debt collectors, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if you get sued, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.