Recently I was attending a pretrial conference at one of the local justice courts here in Arizona in one of the cases I have against Midland Funding, LLC. This type of court hearing is quite short (less than 5 minutes) and nothing much really happens other than the setting of at trial date. However something the judge said right when my case was called made me realize why consumers face such an uphill battle when it comes to fighting back against junk debt buyers and their debt collection lawsuits.
As is customary in all court hearings the attorneys will stand and state their name and who they represent to the judge. Right after the judge took his seat on the bench he pointed at the attorney for Midland Funding and said “I know who you are” and then pointed at me and said “but I don’t know you, please provide your name and who you represent.”
Now, when it comes to defending consumers against junk debt buyers I handle a lot of cases. Based on anecdotal evidence, I believe I am in the top two or three when it comes to the number of consumers I represent in Arizona in these types of cases. Because of this I am in court. A lot.
But when compared to the attorneys for the junk debt buyers I am hardly in court at all. These debt collection law offices handle hundreds to thousands of cases. Further, most of the consumers they are suing are not represented by a lawyer. So from my Judge’s perspective, what he sees day-in-and-day-out is the same attorney (the debt buyer’s) and a bunch of unrepresented consumers who either don’t put for any defense or who get run over by the far more experienced debt buyer attorney.
I think most people – the judge included – would be hard pressed to not develop a bias against the thousands of consumers that come into a court, present no defense, and lose their case. I mean if you sat at a desk and signed judgments (mostly default judgments) against consumers all day long it would be pretty easy to start thinking that every one of the debt buyer cases is the same and that all consumers are liable for the debts asserted by the junk debt buyer.
What Can You Do About It?
So, this begs the question – what can you do about it? I mean if a judge is biased against you from the beginning you are going to really have a difficult time in winning your case. Here are three things you can do to lessen the negative impact of judicial bias on your junk debt buyer case.
Bring Your “A” Game
You are the underdog in your case. You need to understand that the attorney for the junk debt buyer will take full advantage of any misstep you make in your case and in most situations the judge is going to go along with it. This means that you need to make sure that you always show up to any scheduled court hearings (on time!), that you make sure all of your documents are filed on time, that you know the rules that are applicable to your case and your court and that you follow them.
Here in Arizona I have witnessed first hand many consumers lose their case because they showed up 5 minutes to a scheduled court hearing. I have also had the personal pleasure of being made to wait over 1 hour for the junk debt buyer’s attorney to show up to court with no repercussions to the junk debt buyer. Life isn’t fair. Don’t expect it to be any different in your case.
Learn the Rules
Debt collection cases are civil cases. Civil cases have their own set of rules that govern the entire proceeding called the Rules of Civil Procedure. While these rules are generally the same, each state has its own set of Rules that may be slightly different. In fact, here in Arizona where I practice certain courts have their own set of Rules – for instance the Justice Courts in Arizona have their own Justice Court Rules of Civil Procedure while the Superior Courts adhere to the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure.
Know the rules. The attorney for the junk debt buyer will know them well and use them against you if you allow it.
Think About Hiring a Consumer Protection Lawyer
I know this is self-serving, but if you can afford it I would recommend hiring an attorney to represent you in your case for two reasons. First, it helps out a lot if you have someone who knows the rules and has been there before. Trust me, if this is your first time litigating in civil court you will spend countless hours and sleepless nights trying to figure out how to navigate the court system and your stress level will be through the roof. Having a lawyer can eliminate all of those problems.
Second, in my experience, judges often don’t give a self-represented consumer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to debt collection cases. Having an attorney brings some legitimacy to your claims whereas the judge may think you really don’t have any idea of what your are talking about, even if you are spot on as to the law. It also helps when it comes to negotiating a settlement with the opposing attorney. Too often junk debt buyer lawyers will just walk all over consumers in coming to a settlement.
What About Self-Help Services?
If you can’t afford to hire an attorney you are going to need to take some time educating yourself on the process. I founded The Consumer Warrior Project to help people who are representing themselves in court. I have online video courses on the following topics:
- How to Draft an Answer to a Debt Collection Lawsuit
- How to Respond to a Motion for Summary Judgment
- Dealing with a Default Judgment
- The Pros/Cons of Filing for Bankruptcy
Winning your case is going to take some effort on your part and sacrifice either in money (to hire a lawyer) or time to get up to speed on how the system works. But if you do what is needed to win, often times junk debt buyer cases are winnable. Click on the photo below to learn more.