~ written with Trudy Harris ~
In October 2008, Trudy and I came upon a situation that required either an act of god (which wasn't going to happen with this guy) or death by being an idiot (which could happen).
A very wealthy man by the name of George Miller, living in Northern California, had previously lost a legal case where he was the defendant, and as a result, a Judgment was entered against him - for a whopping $225,000.
A Judgment can be a serious matter. What normally happens when there is a Judgment against you, someone wants to collect it. Someone wants their $250,000 right? Of course.
Let me side track for a minute - it amazes me how many people think that if they take someone to Small Claims court and get a Judgment against someone who owes them money, that the court is going to help them (you) get their money, or arrest the person, or collect the money for them (you). This is not true and let me save you a lot of time and money here. You should only take someone to Small Claims court if, and only if, they have a lot to lose, in other words you need LEVERAGE.
Have you ever experienced the hassle and annoyance working with Small Claims court? They opened Small Claims courthouses for people who are owed $5000 or less, to unburden the Superior Court, the main courthouse, with these smaller financial matters. The court is not your friend. The laws are in favor of the defendant. Please you keep your expectations very low and you won't get so frustrated. The $225,000 Judgment against the guy mentioned above was issued by the Superior Court as it's over $5000.
Still side tracking here...people such as yourself spend your hard earned money on Small Claims court fees and process servers, all the while thinking the court is going to have your back. Not true. The best you can hope for is that the person pays up before the hearing, and if he does, you lucked out. This is a rare occurrence.
If the defendant didn't pay you and he doesn't show up for the court hearing, and/or the papers were not served right (that's a whole other story, don't get me started), you have to start all over. If the defendant was served correctly and you get a Judgment, so what? You still have to collect the money yourself. All a Judgment means is that a court says someone owes you money - that's it.
I don't mean to be mean or sound real harsh about the Small Claims court itself, but I have seen so many people disappointment when they thought just because they have a Judgment, that they are going to get money. If the person who owes you money doesn't own a home or you can't find him or does not have a job or has gone out of business, you have no LEVERAGE. The courts do not assist you with finding anyone or help you collect any money.
If all you have is a hope and a prayer the guy's going to pay you, take the loss and move on.
If you can't move on, what you can do is file more paperwork with the court and the county recorder, pay more fees, and put a lien on his name with the County Recorder and the Secretary of State. This means if the person ever tries to buy or sell something of huge value, the Lien will come up and he'll have to pay you off (after the tax men get their money first though). I'm not talking about a person selling a car or small items. But things like a loan, buying a house, or buying cattle or a ranch, any kind of asset that requires due diligence and an escrow company.
A Lien could be a good idea, sometimes it gives you closure. It is just like these deadbeats to win the Lottery. Did you know when a person wins the Lottery all Liens and Judgments are checked under the winner's name and if he/she has any Liens or Judgments, these debts get paid first before the winner gets any money? Might be worth filing a Lien just in case.
There are millions of dollars in Judgments out there that people such as yourself can't collect, as the person who owes you the money had nothing to lose, he doesn't care if his credit is ruined or that you filed a Lien against him for not paying you.
So back to good ole' George...what happened here is that his house went into escrow and the person he owed the $250,000 to, failed to file a Lien. Now the client and her lawyers had to run to court to obtain an Injunction that will stop George from disbursing money and hiding it once escrow closed, which was any day. George somehow figured that he was free and clear on not paying this debt because the person he owed the money to didn't know he was selling the home - or so he thought until we showed up.
When Trudy and I showed up at his house to serve him the Injunction, all we got was a screen door with music playing through it. After knocking for several minutes and calling out his name explaining why we were there, he would not come to the door. A while later, his garage door flew up, he sped out of the driveway in his brand new Mercedes, drives over his lawn and his trash can, then freaks out when he almost ran Trudy over.
Serving an Injunction is serious business so we expected to have trouble. People do some crazy things when they have a lot to lose. He's going to make $300,000 on the house and we are going to take $250,000 of it - he's desperate. It's inevitable he's going to pay, he just wants to act a little nuts for a while.
So now we have to push the LEVERAGE button.
LEVERAGE is the "action" that you do which in return causes fear or discomfort for the person you are trying to control. You have to come up with a scenario that is going to cause this guy to cooperate. In this case, his house is in escrow so this means there is a buyer involved right? I bet the buyer is driving by from time to time until escrow closes in anticipation of moving in and dreaming of what upgrades etc. they could make. But what if they drive by and see copies of the court order pasted all over the property? What would the buyer think if they read a copy? This would alarm them, maybe feel like their escrow could be in danger of not closing. I think our guy would definitely not want this to happen, nor would he want the buyers to drive by and read this document.
So, we thought we'd give this guy one more crack at cooperating. We arrived at his house again the following day, Halloween actually, early in the morning with a bunch of copies of the Injunction and Court Order. We warned him nicely by yelling through his front door that we would be leaving several copies of the documents in his yard, patio and garden. He called our bluff and wouldn't answer the door, the louder we knocked, the louder he turned up his stereo. We told him we would return at 7 PM so we could personally serve him. We left a business card on his front door. We then plastered copies of these documents all over his front door, garage door, his bushes, his mailbox, his planters under his windows, just enough to make a statement. We'd were hoping he'd look out his window, see us doing this, and come out and settle the matter, but nope, he's still in denial.
So at 7 PM, it was Halloween night. Trudy happened to be dressed in an Elf costume (she was taking her grandkids trick or treating later). Upon arrival at his place we saw that all the papers were gone from his lawn and porch. Trudy-the-Elf caught George off guard, he thought she was a trick or treater, she handed him the papers. George showed a kind of resignation attitude but with a bit of anger about spewing the papers all over his property, but we knew he wasn't going to give us any more trouble.
Our client ended up getting the $250,000 owed to her.
Use LEVERAGE when serving papers, as long as it's legal. Trudy was pretty funny looking in her Elf costume, but you wouldn't believe the costumes and outfits Trudy has used to serve people, it's a real kick and there is no one else better at it.