12.02.2006

Why Lawyers Rock

I've heard the bad lawyer jokes, and so have you. People--some people-- love to hate lawyers. But lawyers do a lot of good in the world and in this post, I'm gonna tell you why...

Read a previous post titled Working Class Blues (swimming with the sharks) and you'll learn about another kind of lawyer--the kind who works for collection agencies, scouring the bottom of the ocean for debts big and small that long ago sunk to the floor, weighted down by the poverty of their owners.

I didn't know much about this debt collection game, since I permanently retired and chopped up all my plastic in 1997, after a consumer credit counseling service told me straight up that I had such a pathetically low income, (working full time, by the way) they could not put me on a budget and there was no help available to me until I found a much better paying job. There's no debt diet for a starving worker. If I had a better paying job, I commented at the time, I wouldn't need a debt counselor because I'd be able to make my credit card payments and keep the lights on.

In all my years in the sunshine state, I never saw a living wage. With each job change I made a dollar or two more, but the rents rose faster than my pay. And so did the auto insurance, the phone bill, utilities, food prices...you get the picture.

In 1999 I got a union job. It didn't pay much more than my other crappy jobs, but I believe in unions generally, and I wanted to check this out. The union offered workers a chance to build good credit with the "Union Plus" secured credit card. I decided to take a chance on this one. You can read the whole sad story in Working Class Blues (swimming with the sharks)

In December 2005, I was awakened from my afternoon sleep of the dead after working the graveyard shift all night in Target stocking the store --without air conditioning-- in Florida. The process server was at my door, to hand me a summons. A company called Asset Acceptance that I'd never heard of was suing me for $3,000 + for this secured credit card that I'd canceled back in June 2001. I called the Federal Trade Commmission.

The FTC agent told me the statute of limitations ( four years) had expired in Florida for credit cards. I decided I'd just go to court and tell the judge my side, and this lawsuit would be dismissed as frivolous. I showed up one day late because I'd misread the handwritten summons date, and because of that the collection agency got a default against me, but when I showed up at the courthouse only one day late and filed a motion to vacate, explaining my error and the legal reason for my dispute, the motion was granted and the judgment was set aside.

Next, the case was referred to mediation, and for that I showed up on the right date. I repeated my earlier assertion---that I owe this collection agency nothing, and the secured credit card debt was past the statute of limitations when the collection agency decided to sue me. The mediator, who did not seem to be "impartial" at all, declared an impasse. I asked when I'd get a chance to present my argument and evidence to the judge, and the mediator gave me no answer. I called the clerk's office every week or so, looking for an update, and was told nothing new had happened in the case.

In August, I moved back to the big apple--yeah that's right-- NYC, Lady Liberty's back yard. While I was staying in a Manhattan homeless women's shelter, the judge ( a different one) granted a default judgment for the plaintiff, Asset Acceptance. The reason cited: because I failed to appear at the pre trial hearing dated the same day as the mediation. The only problem is, I was there on that date.

When I came back to Florida for a visit to the family and found out about this, it was too late for me to file a motion for free, and I didn't have the money to pay the court filing fee.
What this meant was, in theory Asset Acceptance could garnish my wages for years to come, could seize my property (if I had any) and freeze my Swiss Bank accounts. (Yes, that was sarcasm) With interest added every year. All this misery for a secured credit card with a credit limit of $250. Secured by my $250 deposit--a deposit that was never returned to me-- in whole or in part.

I found justice in October, in the person of a lawyer named Mark Tischhauser, who has a picture of a bulldog on his business card, with the caption: A CLIENT'S BEST FRIEND." He called the collection agency, asked them a few questions, and got them to admit they made a mistake, and the default judgment against me was vacated in November. By the plaintiff's request.

So NYC landlords, If you see this default judgment on my credit report be aware it's WRONG! (and it will be removed)

I might not use credit cards, but I paid my rent on time (even if I starved) and this can be verified.

Somebody once said this is a nation of laws. Lawyers are the only ones who seem to understand these laws. Ignorance about their rights under these laws can mess up the lives of innocent people, whose only "crime" is being poor, and lawyers who take their cases pro bono or for a contingency fee can make things right. Lawyers like these level the playing field, opening up access to justice for people who don't have the deep pockets of a collection agency.

When the playing field gets even, the game becomes tougher for some players, and that's why they snipe at trial lawyers, urging their (usually Republican) legislators to pass laws that limit contingency fees. (See red states)

Lawyers who fight for the wrongly convicted and wrongly incarcerated, http://www.innocenceproject.org/ and http://www.floridainnocence.org/ and the good hearted but not well connected (see http://www.aclu.org/) make prosecutors and judges work harder. Lawyers like these comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Maybe that's why some people hate lawyers so much.

Not me.

1 comment:

Neva said...

Well Cris, almost a year to the day of your post and I just won my wife's case against the same cretins. They insisted that she pay a bill that they bought under her ex-husbands name and must of realized that particular low-life was bone-dry, so they decided to squeeze her. Three months after being served and much research into collection law later, I called their lawyers today and was informed that they are dropping the case for lack of validation. Now I'm considering a suit of my own against them as I have put way too much time into it to let it go peacefully.

Congratulations on the outcome of your case, I hope more people out there realize what these leeches are and stand up to them as we did.

By the by, you write very well, your telling of the tale was a good read!