Monday, December 15, 2008

It's not fair!

This is a rant. Do not — I repeat — do not ever try to sue a client in small claims court. In my experience, it cannot be done. I have tried three times, and, as I sit here popping Excedrin, I am about to give up. But, before I do, let me keep you from making the same mistakes I’ve made.

Let's say you begin by going to your attorney for help in collecting money you have earned through hard work. After a few false starts, your attorney suggests that you to try small claims court. Of course, the very most you could be awarded is $3,000, no matter how much money your client owes you. But, you decide $3,000 is better than nothing.

Small claims court is supposed to work this way:
•You file a claim.
•The defendant is served.
•You both appear in court at the appointed day and time.
•Your case is heard.
•You win. and collect your money.

Now, here is reality:
•You go to the small claims court office in the county courthouse and file a claim. It takes a long time and requires a lot of information you probably don’t have, since you had no idea what was expected.
•You pay the filing fee. If you want the want the summons served by a human being (the sheriff) instead of the US mail, you pay an additional amount.
•On your court date, you show up as scheduled. Your defendant probably doesn’t.
•When your case is called, you are told the summons has not been served. The case is cancelled.
•You repeat the process, at least once, with the same results.

All the things that can go wrong:
•The sheriff does not find the defendant for any number of reasons. You track down his whereabouts and pay some more money to have him served again. The sheriff still doesn't find him.
•You are told you must go to court, even if the defendant has not been served. You do, wasting many hours.
•You are told you don’t have to show up if he is not served. You stop coming and get in trouble with the judge.
•You go to see the sheriff and are told by a switchboard operator, “Sorry. That’s the way we do things.”
•You ask for a supervisor, explain the whole matter again, and are told, “Sorry. That’s the way we do things.”
•You go back to the small claims administrator, who tells you to call the sheriff and ask about hiring a private process server.
•The sheriff’s office tells you that’s not their responsibility; you should call the small claims administrator.
•You finally hire a private process server. He does not find the defendant, either (often, after several attempts). The next day, the missing defendant is seen drinking in a neighborhood bar. But, by that time, you have fired the process server.

Alternative scenario:
•The defendant is served. He does show up in court. You win the case; and he disappears (there are several ways to do this), never to be seen again.

You have now poured quite a bit of money into a black hole called the legal system. Your client, who has decided not to pay you, is probably laughing his head off. You are tempted to jump up and down with your fists clenched, and yell (as you children did when they were going through the terrible twos), IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Remember what you used to say? "Life is not fair."


Kim said...

Okay, Pat Trick definitely has his own chapter in my PAS book! I'm so sorry, Bobbi - but go ahead and jump up and down. It just might make you feel better...

gma12 said...

Oh my dear pashmina,
I'm so sorry you're having so much trouble. But let it go, I bet your blood pressure is sky high. It's just like fighting the IRS. That's another story for another time. Pat Rat will be punished in the end. Take care of yourself and let it go!

Mrs. Wryly said...

Wow, that's really not fair! You've been through all of this in the past few weeks? I'm so sorry to hear that justice has eluded you.


Bobette Kyle said...

Yes, this really sucks. My "bulldog" side says stalk him for life. But, the sensible side says it's time to let it go. And PLEASE, jump up and down on only one leg...don't want to take you to the hospital when you blow out the bad knee. ;-)