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Court Involvement in Discovery

What is the court’s involvement in discovery? Does it oversee interrogatories, requests for production and requests for admissions?

In most jurisdictions, there is no court involvement in the discovery process unless and until a motion to compel becomes necessary. Even in those jurisdictions, a lot of people will send a “notice of service of discovery” which simply informs the court of the date and type of service certain discovery was served on the other side: “On this date, defendant served his first set of interrogatories, requests for admissions, and requests for production on plaintiff by first class mail, postage prepaid, at the address noted below as the service address.”

Perhaps a very few courts require this by local rule. For other courts, it probably does not hurt and may occasionally do some good. If, for example, some issue of notice arises, parties are usually held responsible for knowing what was in a notice to the court. I’m not aware of that ever actually making a significant difference, however, and most lawyers do not send such notices unless required by rule.

In a very few courts – I just heard of one shortly before writing this article – the courts still take copies of the discovery. That’s a question you could ask a court clerk and probably get an answer, because if they don’t want it, they really don’t want it. That is, for most courts if you send them a copy of the discovery you sent to the other side, the court will return it to you and not accept it.

The Way Discovery Works

What happens is simple. You serve discovery directly to the other side. They answer, object, or ignore you.  If you take no further action, nothing will happen. No one looks out for you! Some people think that’s wrong, but the court gives the parties the freedom to choose their fights, and if you don’t fight about it, the court is only too happy to forget it.

Specifically this means that if you serve discovery on the other side and they ignore it, the court will probably not prevent them from using things they should have given you at trial. If you want to protect yourself you have to follow through.

If you want to force the debt collector to answer, you must file a motion to compel (and typically you have to send them a “good-faith” letter to try to get them to agree to answer, first). Then you attach all your discovery requests and their answers and objections, and file it with the court. That’s the first time the court will see it, so your motion to compel has to be thorough and complete.

And there’s more. After the other side responds, you will need to “call” (schedule your motion with the court) and argue it in front of the judge in order to get the court to rule. The court will either sustain their objections or overrule them and order them to answer the requests. It will usually give them a little time to do that.

At the argument and in your motion, you have to go through each item of discovery and every objection one at a time. It can be maddening, but you are asking the court to rule on a long series of objections, and it must make up its mind on each separate thing.

 

Discovery – Requests for Documents

This is going to be a brief article. For a fuller discussion and samples, look in the Litigation Manual and Forms. Still, you should be able to create your own after reading this. If you do not already own the Debt Defense System, you should consider it. Membership with us allows us to help and guide you every step of the way.

As with other discovery, Requests for Documents are controlled by the rules of civil procedure for your jurisdiction. And there are two sets of rules you must consider: your state rules in general and, if you are in some sub-court of the state, the rules regarding your court; and your “Local Rules” if your court has them.

Sub-Courts

An example of what I mean by “sub-court” might be what we have in Missouri, Associate Circuit courts. These are courts that are designed to handle smaller amounts of money. Or small claims courts (even less money). Many states have similar types of arrangements, and these sub-courts will have their own special rules, and these rules always control when and how much discovery you can conduct. I normally suggest that people avoid these courts because the can be a little too relaxed about the rules. Relaxed rules may seem “easier” for you, but in reality what they do is let the debt collectors get information in that they couldn’t otherwise – and your best chance of winning is to keep that evidence out.

Even if you’re not in that sort of sub-court, your court may have “local rules,” which are rules designed to elaborate on your state’s rules of civil procedure. The rules of civil procedure will create the general structure of discovery and set the penalties for not cooperating – the local rules will establish certain limits: only a certain number, for example, or that they must be in a certain format (not “compound,” usually, meaning without sub-parts).

Whatever the situation, you must find the rules controlling your discovery, or you may do something wrong, giving the debt collector an easy out. To find your rules of civil procedure, follow this link. Any special rules may be mentioned in your rules of civil procedure or in your court’s web-page. I am not aware of these rules – but you must be.

Content of Requests for Documents

The term “document” for purposes of requests is very broad and contains things like electronic records, facsimiles, any non-identical copy of a record, etc. The term is usually defined in the rules of civil procedure, and the way you would define it is to refer to that rule: “by requesting documents, defendant intends all documents as defined by Rule ___, ____Rules of Civil Procedure.

What You Request

You want everything thing the debt collector could use to support its case or attack yours. At a minimum you should ask for any document in their possession or control which you signed or which they contend applies to you in any way. You want all documents relating to the amount or terms of any alleged debt, every document showing or relating to any agreement you made with them, including any notes or comments. You want every document showing or relating to anything you said. If you have a counterclaim, you’ll want to create requests that get everything they have related to that.

Standard

The standard for requests for production is that you are asking for documents in their possession or control. Possession is obvious, but control includes documents that other people have created for them or in support of their business: accountant’s records, for example, or account records (of your account) if the original creditor agreed to provide them if requested. If these documents are not provided or objected to, but then they try to use them at court, you should request to have them excluded from trial.

Objections

When the other side objects – as they will, to everything you ask – you will, eventually, have to eliminate those objections so that you can be sure you have everything they have. Just because they deny having something you would expect them to have, though, does not mean you can file a motion to compel. Rather – once they have answered, you pretty much have to take them at their word for not having stuff they say they do not have. That is, unless you have evidence they are actually hiding something.

When is Evidence Evidence

When Can Documents or Testimony be Used against You?

What makes some things “admissible” to be used in court in a trial but other things not? What makes something evidence that can be used for or against you? This video is a very short primer on evidence. Your case will almost certainly be decided on the basis of whether you can keep some things out of evidence – or whether they can get them in.

 

Discovery key to victory in debt litigation

We talk a lot about how many debt defendants default on their lawsuits – or show up just to give up via settlement. It is also true that many debt defendants either feel so righteous or so helpless, or so confident for one reason or another, that they defend themselves without adequately preparing for the case. This is a recipe for disaster for these defendants – and hurts other debt defendants, too. That’s because the judges get used to substandard cases from debt defendants and stop paying attention.

And THAT’S on top of the fact that most judges identify with the wealthy – and are wealthy – or at least identify with the lawyers. The guy representing the debt collector may not have golfed with the judge, but chances are good that the judge has golfed with a friend of his.

It’s a club, and you’re not in it.

For you to have a chance, you have to do something to stand out and apart from all the other people filing through the courtroom every day. You have to take some action that will allow the judge to get to know you a little bit – just enough to pay attention to you and the law. And of course you must know the right law so that you can explain that other hurtle – the judge’s ignorance.

I’m Not Saying, I’m Just saying…

A lot of judges are quite smart, and some… not so much. But you must realize that judges handle potentially thousands of cases per year, and in the case of judges dealing with debt cases, that number could be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, of cases. They’re busy, and they barely have time to learn the fine points of the law if they don’t already know them. And most of debt law is both controlled by the fine points of laws and rules, and unknown to most lawyers. There is a very good chance, in other words, that your judge DOES NOT KNOW the law you’re depending on. And he or she barely cares. How do you break through?

Discovery – the Key to Your Best Chance

Ironically, the debt collectors will always object to all or almost all of your discovery, and this will give you an excellent reason to learn much more about the law in a useful context. Even more importantly, it will give you a reason to practice talking to the court and an opportunity to make yourself known to the judge. And it gives you the excuse to start educating the judge on what HE needs to know in order to be fair to you.

You need to discovery to have a good chance to win. And if you do it, you also dramatically increase the chances that the debt collector will walk away from your case long before trial.

Beware this Rule of Evidence – You Could Lose Your Right to Object

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