You Won a Judgment, Now What?

You were wronged. You sued. You won. Now you have a piece of paper you spent a lot of time and money to get. It’s signed by the judge, and it says the person you sued owes you money. But you still haven’t been paid! What?!?!

Now what? You do what a logical person does: You call your judgment debtor and politely say, “Please overnight a cashier’s check as soon as possible. Thank you,” and then he sends you a check, right? Not likely! Remember, this is the same person who refused to pay you in the first place. He isn’t going to pay you unless he has to.

So, again, Now What?

You have THREE main options on how to collect:

In Pro Per. This is Latin for “I’m going it alone.” You’ve probably heard the adage, “a man that represents himself has a fool for a client.” It’s not always true, but it’s certainly something to consider. If you have time and patience and some aptitude for the law, this CAN be a viable option. Unfortunately, given the increasing complexities of EJL (Enforcement of Judgment Laws) in California and the rather dire situation of the courts and sheriff’s offices due to the budget crisis, going it alone is becoming increasingly difficult, even if you do have time, patience and the aptitude. If you do: Most County Court websites have some information on how to collect judgments and a must-have book for you brave warriors is, How to Collect When You Win a Lawsuit in California (Nolo Press). It is out of print, but you might be able to check it out at the library or buy a copy on-line.

Representation. Esquire, Lawyer, Attorney, Counselor, Abogado. We have so many names for them and so many feelings about them: love, respect… and some other feelings too. Most attorneys don’t handle collection cases and know nothing about collections, and the ones that do usually charge an hourly fee of $200 or more per hour. Some might even take your case on contingency, but you’ll usually have to pay the “hard costs” involved in collections, which can be anywhere from tens to thousands of dollars. Attorneys have many ways of making money, so they are usually only going to take your case if they are certain it’s collectible.

Judgment Enforcer. A judgment enforcer takes a case “on assignment”. They don’t represent you like an attorney. They buy the judgment from you, usually for a percentage of what is recovered, often payable after it’s recovered. One of the best things about a judgment enforcer is that they pay all the costs. So, if your judgment debtor is discharged in bankruptcy after the judgment enforcer has spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours collecting your judgment, you don’t have to pay a cent.

Which is the best choice for you? Well, that depends on many factors. Give a judgment enforcer or an attorney that specializes in collections a call and see what they say. If they truly are in the business and not just “part-timers” (as many are), they’ll be able to gather a few key pieces of information from you and tell you relatively quickly whether they think your judgment is collectible.

Good luck!

Tom Farley

T&J Judgment Enforcers

Los Angeles, CA