Scheduling conference: Just what you’d expect—a conference with the parties and judge in which a schedule for major events in the lawsuit is planned out. After this conference, the judge generally issues a scheduling order. Normally, as a debt defendant, you must be aware that the court and the other side are both interested in making the time before trial as short as possible. This is bad for a pro se defendant, and you will want to prepare an argument for why you need more time. Having served discovery on the other side before a scheduling conference will really help get more time for the rest of the case, as the judge will see you are serious about defending.

Scheduling order: An order entered by the judge typically after a Scheduling conference which controls the substance and timing of the major events of the lawsuit.

Sealed: When a case involves children or trade or business secrets it is usually “sealed.” This is for obvious reasons, right? When a case is sealed, not only is the public prevented from attending the hearings, but the records are kept in a special place away from the public. Sometimes the argument for sealing the record is not nearly so obvious, and often a debt collector will claim that some of the information it provides you in discovery is a “trade secret” that should be sealed. Maybe. And much of the information you will provide them should likewise be sealed to protect your privacy. If it is not sealed, it is completely available to the public, and debt collection companies often seek, and use, social security numbers.

Second call: During the call docket, if both plaintiff and defendant announce their presence (by saying, “Here!”), then one person, usually the plaintiff, will say “Second call.” This tells the judge to go on with other names, and during recess the two parties will discuss what should happen next. If the plaintiff is not present at the docket call, the case may be dismissed for failure to prosecute; if the defendant is not present, the case will be defaulted.

Secondary debt: An economic term, not a legal one. It refers to debt which has been assigned or sold to a debt collector.

Secondary debt collectors: In a sense this term is redundant, since debt collectors are, by definition, “secondary”—they were not the original creditors, but purchased the debt at a discount from the original creditor. I use the term “secondary debt collectors” when discussing the economy as a way of emphasizing the fact that there is so much of this debt swamping the American economy that an entire market has grown up around it.

Served: This means properly receiving the summons or other documents. Except for the service of summons, service is normally accomplished by placing a document in the mail, properly addressed to the other party, with proper postage affixed. You must certify that you have served documents in this way with a certificate of service.

Service: See served.

Service of process: How a case really commences for a defendant, and it is sometimes referred to as service of summons. It is normally supposed to be accomplished by hand-delivery of a process server. The document should be placed into your hand or offered to you or to a member of your residence fifteen years or older, at your residence. See sufficient service.

Settle: This refers to two or more parties to a suit agreeing to terms and either dismissing the suit or entering a consent judgment. Dismissal is obviously a far better option for a defendant, and if you’re settling a case there’s no good reason not to insist on a dismissal. A judgment against you of any sort hurts you for a long time.

If you are familiar with this site, you know that we view hasty settlement as unnecessary and tremendously expensive. We encourage people at least to start defending themselves, as even that small amount of effort will dramatically change the willingness of the debt collector to settle with you for anything less than the initial amount demanded. And generally, the more and better you fight, the better you will do.

Settlement: The process of, or document settling a case.

Settlement conference:  Often the last conference with the parties and the judge before trial. The judge suggests that the parties settle the case and sometimes will lean pretty heavily on one or both sides to get them to settle. If they don’t settle, then the judge usually sets the case for a jury trial on a certain date or for a week. See trial docket.

Small Claims Courts: Small claims courts are courts of jurisdiction up to only a relatively small ceiling. They typically were designed for unsophisticated litigants disputing matters of small public importance. Thus they involve “relaxed” rules of evidence and procedure. They were never designed for debt collection cases, but unfortunately the debt collectors are using them to get judgments based on insufficient evidence.

Stale debt: A debt that is no longer collectible because it is too old (beyond the statute of limitations). Note that this doesn’t mean that debt collectors won’t try to collect it, however. If they do, you must assert your right under the statute of limitations in order to be protected by it.

State Law Digest: A substantial collection of books containing most legal claims and references to cases in which judges decided what you have to prove in order to establish such a claim. A typical law library has a digest for the state laws of every state, and these are usually collections of perhaps fifty books each.

State Rules of Civil Procedure: The Rules of Civil Procedure that the control the way a case is conducted from beginning to end in the state circuit courts. They do not apply to Federal cases or to Municipal cases.

State Rules of Evidence: The Rules of Evidence that govern the introduction or use of evidence at trial in the state circuit courts. They do not apply to Federal cases or to Municipal cases.

Statute of Limitations: The length of time in which a person has a right to bring a case in court. After that time passes, one normally cannot bring a suit, and courts have found that it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for debt collectors to attempt to file suit for a debt beyond the time permitted by the statute of limitations. For a table of statutes of limitations by state, click here: Statutes of Limitations.

Style (of case): This is the name of your lawsuit (e.g., Debt Collector vs. You), and it usually includes at least the name of the court, the case number and the judge or division as well as the parties.

Subpoena: A document which can force people who are not parties to the suit to come into court and testify (to force a party, you must “notice” them of the requirement that they appear). A subpoena’s  contents are controlled by the jurisdiction’s Rules of Civil Procedure and must be precisely complied with in order to be legally effective.

Sufficient Service: As it sounds, this term refers to service that is legally effective according to the rules.

Summons: A document from the court that tells the defendant in a lawsuit that he or she is being sued and that a response must be entered in order to avoid a default judgment. And it says when and where the response should be filed.

Sustain: What a judge says when he or she agrees with an objection and is going to deny the party seeking to introduce evidence the right to do so. You need to make an offer of proof to protect your rights. Remember that, at trial, the objection is to the question and not the answer, and this matters because, if the court sustains an objection to a question, you can ask a (slightly) different question to get the answer you want in another way. If the judge sustains an objection to evidence because it is “not properly authenticated,” then you will probably want to authenticate it in another way.

Unless the judge tells you the objection is to the evidence (as opposed to the question), you should probably try to figure out another way to get at what you want.