Mediation Instead of Trial

Sometimes you just want to settle a conflict.  Even if it costs you more money, sometimes it may be worth it to you personally, professionally, emotionally, or with the right set of circumstances to have a matter settled.  A Mediation rather than a Trial may be able to bring you that. In Mediation, you control the crash.  In Mediation, you do not get as much of a winner and a loser, but you do get to settle the matter.  Depending on your circumstances and your goals, Mediation may be the right thing for you. A trial is going to result in a winner and a loser, and a judge is going to decide which is which.  In Mediation, however, you have the opportunity to sit down with the other side and hammer out a deal.  Then once the deal is made, it is made, and you have settled the issue.  It gives both sides more control over the outcome. There are a number of civil law matters where Mediation can be used, such as divorce and consumer debt defense.  Seek competent legal counsel to determine if Mediation is an option in your case, and if it would be beneficial to […] Read More

Legal Aid Not the Same As Public Defender

The Sixth Amendment gives you the Constitutional right to an attorney in a criminal defense.  Legal Counsel is so necessary in a criminal case that if a defendant cannot afford counsel, the State provides counsel without fee.  This does not apply in a civil matter (such as divorce, landlord-tenant dispute, or foreclosure defense); that is where Legal Aid plays a vital role in providing legal services for civil cases involving the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Legal Aid is not the same as a Public Defender.  You will not be assigned an attorney if you cannot afford one for a case where your lender is suing to foreclose on your home. St. Johns County Legal Aid is a local non-profit agency that primarily serves the most vulnerable demographic of our population, aiding awareness of legal rights and options in matters of debt, foreclosure, housing, elder law, family law, and many other civil subjects.  Their motto is “A Wealth of Justice for Those Who Have Neither,” and they mean it. If you think you cannot afford an attorney in a civil case, contact your local Legal Aid office.  Even if you do not qualify for Legal Aid, they have a […] Read More

What Is Good in 20 Years?

You can get a 20-year warranty on a mattress, roof shingles, and vinyl flooring.  You know what else is still good in 20 years?  That debt judgment against you. So you got sued in Small Claims Court.  If you had nothing for a creditor or debt servicer to collect, then they still did not get paid and all they got was a judgment against you.  The thing is, that judgment is good for 20 years.  Your creditor or debt servicer can collect at any time during those 20 years.  That is a good deal for creditors and debt servicers…not so much for you. The other thing is, once you have a money judgment against you, the collection can happen with fewer symptoms than a heart attack.  You wake up one morning and the money in your bank account got disappeared.  They can garnish everything in your account up to the amount owed without prior notice.  Again, a good deal for creditors and debt servicers…not so much for you, especially if you were trying to pay rent that day. Everyone should pay their bills, but you have to be able to stay in your home, feed yourself, and put gas in […] Read More

Dr. Wolf’s Phantom Bill

Once upon a time a debt collector telephoned Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother about a medical bill.  “But I paid that bill two years ago,” Grandma Riding Hood told the caller.  Still, the caller insisted there was an outstanding balance and started asking for personal information, saying, “I have to be sure I am talking to the right person, so could you give me your date of birth, address, Social Security number, and account number you used to pay the bill?” Little Red Riding Hood happened to be visiting her grandmother that day and overhearing the conversation.  “Grandma, ask for something in writing,” she told her. “But I do not want to be rude,” said the Grandmother.  “After all, this was for Dr. Wolf who made that house call when I was sick.” “He locked you in the closet!” Little Red exclaimed. “He said it was good for my rheumatism,” Grandma Riding Hood replied. “He was going to eat me!” Little Red protested further. “Well, he was on a special diet, dear.” “Grandma, these debt collectors are required to send you something within 5 days in writing, and then you have 30 days to dispute the debt.  That will give […] Read More

Not Going Anywhere for 20 Years?

The standard operating procedure in credit card debt is not to be sued by your credit card company, but instead by a third-party debt-buyer.  Most consumers arrive at Small Claims Court and the Judge says:  “Do you admit or deny the claim?”  They admit it, saying they need time to pay; then they make a repayment plan with the debt-buyer.  Instead of asking for verification, most consumers rely on third-party debt-buyers to have their facts straight.  That can be a costly silence. When you get a credit card, you sign a credit card agreement that says you agree to the terms of that contract.  That is not what the debt-buyer sues you on.  Instead of suing you on the credit card debt or contract debt, the debt-buyer sues on Account Stated. For debt-buyers it is a numbers game.  They buy millions in debt for pennies on the dollar.  They purchase a spreadsheet of data without representations or warranties, and they do not necessarily know that the information is correct.  The debt-buyer does not know if you owe anything or not. When pushed to a trial with live testimony, the debt-buyers lose.  In Small Claims Court we like to agree to […] Read More

Garnishment is Better Than Debtors’ Prison

Garnishment is better than debtors’ prison because it gives the debtor a chance to repay their bills instead of relying on their family to buy them out of hock…but it is still not great.  With garnishment, money just disappears from your paycheck or bank account, then you receive Notice of Garnishment (as if you had not noticed). Everyone should pay their bills, but you have to be able to stay in your home, feed yourself, and put gas in your car.  That is why certain incomes are eligible for exemption. If you are head of household supplying more than one-half the income to support a minor child, that income is eligible for exemption. If your income comes entirely from Social Security or a pension fund, that income is eligible for exemption.   So, money disappears out of your account and then you get a Notice of Garnishment, what can you do then?  Then you can fill out the form (that comes with the Notice) to file for an exemption. The key to that exemption is that you have to claim it.  Just because you are eligible does not mean you automatically get it. Whether or not you are eligible for an […] Read More

Statement of Accounts in Small Claims?

Statement of Accounts was made for merchants.  If you and I do business, then at the end of the month we get together and reconcile our accounts—the who-owes-who of commerce.  However suing on Statement of Accounts happens in Small Claims Court not between merchants, but by Debt-Buyers against Consumers. Debt-Buyers purchase debt in bulk for pennies on the dollar in hopes of collecting the full amount.  They play a numbers game, knowing not all claims are going to pay off, but filing enough claims to make money on the ones that do. The problem with Debt-Buyers suing on Statement of Account in Small Claims Court is that a lot of those last statements say “zero balance.”  Consumers are making deals with Debt-Buyers when they do not have to. The issue is can the plaintiff prove it? If the credit card company sent you a statement and you failed to disagree with the charges, then you agree to pay them.  But if your debt goes delinquent and is sold to a Debt-Buyer, the credit card company zeroes the balance on your account.  So how does the Debt-Buyer sue on Statement of Account? (With credit card interest rates at 29.9%, the interest […] Read More

The Way Garnishment Works

The way garnishment works is first they take your money, THEN they tell you they have taken it.  You wake up one day and whatever you owe them, that money got disappeared.  Later when you receive that notice of garnishment, they also send you a form to file for exemption. If you are head of household supplying more than one-half the income to support a minor child, that income is eligible for exemption. If your income comes entirely from Social Security or a pension fund, that income is eligible for exemption. People have options.  Everyone should pay their bills, but you have to be able to stay in your home, feed yourself, and put gas in your car—that is why certain incomes are eligible for exemption.  You do not have to promise your Social Security income to cover a collection judgment; claim an exemption instead. Seek competent legal advice to learn more about exemptions from judgment.  (You do not need an appointment to pick up a pamphlet at Legal Aid about collection exemptions and how to claim them.)  St. Johns Legal Aid is located at 222 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine and they are open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 […] Read More

Legal Aid in Civil Matters

In a criminal case you have a Constitutional Right to an attorney, but what if you are poor, elderly, disabled, and your landlord has locked you out?  The Sixth Amendment does not cover your court cost and appoint legal counsel to assist you for a landlord-tenant dispute.  That is where Legal Aid plays a vital role in providing legal services for civil cases. St. Johns County Legal Aid is a local non-profit agency that primarily serves the most vulnerable demographic of our population—the poor, the elderly, and the disabled—aiding awareness of legal rights and options in matters of debt, foreclosure, housing, elder law, family law, and many other civil subjects.  Their motto is “A Wealth of Justice for Those Who Have Neither.” If you think you cannot afford an attorney in a civil case, contact your local Legal Aid office.  Even if you do not qualify for Legal Aid, they have a lot of pamphlets you may find helpful.  You can visit their office at 222 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine, or call to make an appointment at (904) 827-9921.  The Legal Aid website is http://www.jaxlegalaid.org/home.html.   Read More