An important part of defending yourself is through discovery. In this article we discuss interrogatories.
Now we’re going to look at some specific areas of discovery, starting with interrogatories.
Interrogatories are questions, but they are not normal questions. They are questions where you are asking very broadly for all the information that might relate to your case that is in the possession or control of the other side.
Debt collection cases follow a pretty general pattern: the debt collector purchased the debt (or the original creditor set up an account and kept it); something happened to generate the debt; the defendant either paid or did not pay; and, ultimately, the defendant either failed to pay or did not fail to pay.
FDCPA claims are similarly general: the debt collectors did something which you allege was an unfair debt collection practice – you have to prove they did do it and that it was unfair.
Since these basic facts are at issue in every debt case, I created some standard interrogatories which, with fairly minor adjustment, could be used by anyone in a debt case. This would increase the chances that you would ask the right questions in the right way. And those questions are in the Litigation Manual and Forms.
Whether you use those interrogatories or not, there is one thing that you must do before beginning discovery. You must find out what the rules of discovery in your jurisdiction are, because these will determine how many questions you can ask and what “form” the questions must be in. Traditionally, lawyers have asked interrogatories like this:
State whether you have a copy of any contract that contains Defendant’s signature on it. If your
answer is “no,” state whether you have a copy of ANY document that contains Defendant’s signature
and, if so, identify each such document.
Sometimes questions will have ten or more parts, and these are called “compound” questions. We ask queestions in this way in an attempt to force the answers to follow a certain, orderly format, and to make sure that every possible angle is covered. Perhaps that has gone too far from time to time, and some courts have instituted rules limiting the number of questions or requiring that questions not be in compound form. Of course all this is done in the name of “simplifying” litigation and “reducing the burdens” of litigation and so on, but the fact is that in general, the richer parties tend to have access to the information – or to control the documents in the first place – so these reforms (like most litigation reforms) have really just served to empower the rich and weaken the poor. Luckily this is less important in debt litigation than most types of litigation.
If you are required not to use compound questions, you will have to use questions one at a time:
“Identify all documents you have that purport to bear the defendant’s signature”
“For every document you have that purports to bear the defendant’s signature, explain in detail how it came to be in your possession.”
If you fail to follow the required format for your questions, you will receive valid objections, which will allow the debt collector to delay and possibly avoid answering your questions. If that happens, it will make your job defending yourself much, much tougher.