Conducting Discovery – Part 3

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Conducting Discovery – part 1

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Conducting Discovery – part 2

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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.


Motion to Vacate or Set Aside

If you missed the time for filing your Answer or showing up in court – even by just a few minutes, there is probably a default order or judgment against you. You will need to get that order vacated or “set aside,” the legalese for “removed.” You need the court’s initial judgment to go away, in other words, so you can start over and defend yourself from the debt collectors. You ask the court to do that by filing a Motion to Vacate. There are two parts to every motion to vacate – the part that explains and seeks to excuse your failure to answer, and the part that shows the court that you have some sort of defense to the suit.

There are two conflicting policies behind vacating default judgments: the policy in favor of hearing every case “on the merits” (rather than letting the case be decided by a “technicality”) and the policy in favor of “finality,” which is just a way of saying that when a court has decided something it likes for things to end. When you’re a “little guy,” the courts are more interested in finality than they are for bigger economic players.

At the same time, the debt collector will fight hard to keep its default judgment – that gives it a chance to raid your bank accounts or wages at practically zero cost rather than allowing you to defend. Thus while you have a very good chance to get the default judgment removed, the motion is a little tricky, and time is of the essence, meaning that any delay in filing the motion could cause you to lose it.

The Motion to Vacate or Set Aside Default Judgment Packet consists of 9 Documents:

  • Two Sample Motions
  • An “annotated” Motion – to be used as a model for cutting and pasting
  • A Sample Affidavit
  • Sample Memorandum in Support
  • Sample Proposed Answer and Counterclaim
  • Instructions
  • Case law notes
  • Report on Default Judgments and Motions to Vacate.

Although this is not “cut and paste” you will find this document, along with the directions, just what you need to file your Motion to Vacate and to get started defending yourself so you can keep the debt collectors from garnishing your wages or raiding your bank account.

Rule against Hearsay Evidence

The Rule against Hearsay is as close to a silver bullet as you get in debt litigation. I’ve often said that debt collectors don’t have and can’t get (cost effectively) what they need to beat you. The rule against hearsay is the rule that lets you keep the records they do have out of evidence.

A Critical Definition

Hearsay is an out of court statement offered for the truth of whatever was said. That is, a statement that was made (or written, usually in debt cases) somewhere other than a courtroom, under oath.

For example, if you testified that “Mr. Smith said the dog was white,” this would be hearsay if you wanted the jury to believe the dog was white. That’s because in order to believe that, the jury would have to believe Mr. Smith – and he hasn’t testified under oath in the presence of the jury.

If you testified that “Mr. Smith said the dog was white” would not be hearsay if you wanted to prove that Mr. Smith could talk, though, because in that case the jury could evaluate your statement that he did talk and would not need to form a belief as to whether the statement was correct.

In debt collection cases, the debt collectors often seek to use affidavits or business records that say the debt was a certain amount, that certain procedures were followed, etc. But these are only helpful if you believe the records – and thus the records are hearsay. To keep the judge from allowing the records to count, you must object to their admission. And you will probably have to be prepared to argue they aren’t subject to the “business records exception.”



Business Records Exception

The Rule against Hearsay is as close to a silver bullet as you are going to get in debt litigation, but the debt collector will try to get in their often bogus records using what’s called the “business records exception.”  You need to understand this rule and prepare to defend against it. In this video we discuss this rule of evidence.

This should be obvious, but it’s easy to forget things in the rush of trial or argument. In order to argue the rule against hearsay or the business records exception, you must know those rules for your state. You should also have a copy of a court decision stating the rule (and ruling the way you want it to) WITH YOU at the argument or trial. You want to be able to hand the judge the case and point to specific language in it highlighted in bright yellow ink. That way there can be no mistakes.

Otherwise, mistakes are easy to make, and it’s easy to ignore the arguments of pro se defendants.


Entry of Appearance

The way you let the court and other side know, formally, that you are going to defend yourself, is by filing an “Entry of Appearance.” This video discusses this requirement and some other “red tape” like how days are counted.

The Entry of Appearance is important because once you do that, the court and other side must provide you notice of anything that is happening. Before that, you are subject to default without notice. You CAN enter a case without answering it, but you’re still subject to default. So enter your appearance AND answer the petition at the same time – even if you aren’t required by the court to do so.

In the lower courts in Missouri, people often show up for court and announce their presence when called. But if they don’t file an answer, if they miss another hearing they still get defaulted. Don’t let this happen to you.

Click here for a sample Entry of Appearance.


Affidavits by Debt Collectors are often False and Deceptive

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Affidavit – what it is and how to make one

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