HOW ENFORCEMENT OF JUDGMENT WORKS

A quick video on how small claims and enforcement of judgment both work.

How Enforcement of Judgment Works (Page 1)

General Information on How Enforcement of Judgment Works

It may seem curious that we have information on how to do your whole enforcement of judgment document process by yourself, but this is the only really honest way for me to know that I have fully educated my clients on what it is that we help them with. The enforcement of judgment process can be done completely on one’s own with a few trips to the courthouse for some help. Our document completion is around $25-$100 per enforcement of Judgment Item+ court filing fees + chosen method of service. My fee is not much for all the time that it helps you save.

The purpose of this article is to familiarize you with the Enforcement of Judgment process in the State of California.

The following is a narrative explanation of the enforcement of judgment processes available to you.  Most of this and more can be found on the California Court’s Self-Help website http://www.courts.ca.gov/1014.htm. The Court will not enforce your judgment for you!  You have to follow legal procedures to enforce the judgment you have been awarded by the court.  80% of judgments go unenforced because most people are completely unaware of this simple fact.  This is an introductory presentation of the basics of Enforcement of Judgment.  By reading this you are on your way to being better off than 80% of the plaintiffs out there who have won their small claims or civil court case.  Don’t be daunted.  This presentation will cover the basics which are oftentimes all one needs to enforce their judgment.

First off, what do I mean by enforce your judgment?  For one thing, most of the California Judicial Council Forms used are labeled EJ, which stands for Enforcement of Judgment.  The other set of Judicial Council Forms used in enforcement of judgment are WG, which stands for Wage Garnishment.  EJ and WG, these forms are going to be the forms you use to force your judgment debtor to hand over the money they rightfully owe you.

The first thing you have to do to enforce your judgment is to locate your debtor.  Since you have probably just received a judgment against this person, you probably have a decent address to at least use as a starting point in locating your judgment debtor.  It could be the case that you have just received a judgment by default (defendant did not show up and the judge awarded you a default judgment), or that you have an older judgment and are only now beginning the enforcement of judgment process.  Either way, you need to locate your debtor and research your debtor’s assets.  Sometimes in a default judgment it was not possible to personally serve the defendant and substituted service or service by publication was completed.  Most of the time with a default judgment, people are served properly with personal or substituted service and they just elected not to show up because they simply had nothing to say in their defense.  What this means is that you probably have a good address and can easily locate the judgment debtor’s address.

Sometimes the judgment debtor is a business.  This is usually much simpler.  You can usually find a business’s address on their website or in the phone book.  If they are incorporated, you can find their information at the secretary of state’s office in the state of their incorporation.  If they are a local company or sole proprietor they will oftentimes have a fictitious business name statement on file with the local County Clerk’s Office.

If you do not have a good address from your service of process or from the recent timeframe of the awarded judgment, and you cannot find a good address from initial corporate and business searches, don’t despair, skip tracing is the name of this stage of the game.   Think of what you know about the judgment debtor.  Do you know any of the same people that they know?  Friends or family?  Do you know any of the businesses other customers or business associates?  This is a good way to start your search, but be careful because there are regulations regarding contacting people about debtors under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.  You are not allowed to mention the debt, only that you are attempting to locate the individual.  A sample phone script is as follows: “Hello, I am looking for so and so, I know that you used to live near them, do you happen to know where they moved or did they leave a forwarding address”.  Lots of times people leave a trail of disgruntled former friends and business acquaintances in their wake and you can easily find information.  Just don’t mention the debt, don’t try to bend the rules here.  You don’t want to effectively loose the economic advantage and leverage you were just given by a judge by violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and becoming liable.

If you want to play it really safe, you can hire a skip tracer or a private investigator to find the person and their assets.  Another option is selling your judgment on the secondary market.  There are many investors who invest in civil judgments.  I myself will buy a judgment on a contingent basis for a 50% discount.  When I enforce any part of the judgment, I pay out half after expenses until the entire judgment is satisfied.  Before you do that though, keep reading and at least attempt to enforce the judgment on your own.  I am by trade a Legal Document Assistant and what I do is charge a small fee to help complete and properly file and coordinate service of process of first small claims legal documents and then enforcement of judgment and wage garnishment legal documents.  I only provide legal document assistance in the state of California, but I can buy judgments in all 50 states and federally.  Small Claims is my focus however and my passion is helping people obtain the maximum amount of their awarded judgments as possible.  I do judgment investing after everything else.  My clients come first.  Enough of me talking about my business practices though, let’s get to the meat of how enforcement of judgment works.

There are a ton of different subscription location services all over the internet.  You can google people locator or locator service or any set of different keywords having to do with location services or find people, etc.  These services can help in locating people.  There are books on the internet all about skip tracing.  Many people who have taken an active interest in the small claims process and want to learn a little about legal processes and enforcement of judgment like the research, it is pretty interesting.  Use whichever method you like best.  Some of the location services on the internet will list family and former neighbors.  Don’t forget the phone book and yellowpages.com and whitepages.com.  Some people actually have listed landlines these days still and not just cellphones.  It’s amazing.

Another thing is the public information available through a public social media profile.  Don’t send friend requests on Facebook or any of the equivalent on any other social media platforms.  Not only can it get you into legal trouble, but it’s just bad juju, kind of a karmic thing, an abuse of the natural laws of hospitality and friendship.  The information that people make public can give you a good idea of a person’s whereabouts.  If you happen to still be a friend on a person’s social media that information is fair game as well.  This brings up a side note, if you want to preserve a relationship with somebody who for whatever reason you have been friends with, but got into a legal dispute with and with whom you were not able to settle out of court, you can accept reasonable payments and your friend can even pay the court the payments rather than you directly.  This type of thing can take the sting out of the adversarial proceedings.  More about that a little later on.

If somebody is completely impossible to find using different self-help skip tracing methods, hiring a professional skip tracer and/or a professional private investigator, then you probably also have a judgment debtor who has no assets to seize and you are probably at the end of your search for a little while at least.  You never know what the future might hold.  Every person who is at the bottom of their finances and going through the most poverty in their life might turn their lives around within the next 5 years and begin making money again.  It is good to wait a few years and make sure you renew the judgment before it expires just in case.  Sometimes judgment debtors die, sometimes they file bankruptcy.  Neither of these are necessarily complete bars.  There is a probate process and a process of filing creditor’s claims and also as I am going to go over, once you locate somebody you can file liens on their real property and on their unencumbered personal property, levy their bank accounts, garnish their wages, seize their personal property, the list goes on.

Determining the amount owed.

Now to calculate the amount that a judgment debtor owes you.  Of course you know the amount of the initial judgment, but did you know that you are also owed interest as well as your collection costs?  You see the spirit of the law is to restore an offended person to their original unharmed state.  You have been damaged if you have been awarded damages and you are owed your interest as well as the cost of enforcing your judgment.  Don’t forget that, this is a balancing of a cosmic equation as well as mankind an uncover it.  That’s how our common law system works, the law is uncovered.  Don’t feel bad about enforcing your judgment, your judgment interest and your judgment collection costs.  If you don’t do it nobody else is going to do it for you.

Interest accrues from the date of judgment at 10% simple interest.  What that means is that you take the judgment amount, multiply it by .1, divide that number by 365 and then multiply by the number of days since the judgment was awarded.  Simple equation: (((Judgment)x(.1))/365)x(number of days since judgment).  To that you add your collection costs.  If it happens to be time to renew your judgment, the judgment amount is recast as to the interest not yet paid.  Interest then accrues at a 10% simple interest rate based on the new amount.  One little silver lining behind the storm cloud of not being paid your money.  If you happen to be reading this in the context of looking into enforcing a family law judgment, take note, your family law judgment does not ever expire, so you must elect to renew to recast the unpaid interest into the new judgment amount.  The renewal forms are EJ-190 and EJ-195.  Usually this is a very beneficial gem that some women are not aware of.  From time to time there are men collecting family law judgments too.  Don’t be sexist, it is a two-way street.

With respect to recasting the judgment amount, if your judgment debtor has paid any of the judgment debt, this has to be properly taken into consideration when calculating the new judgment debt upon renewal.  I suggest using the little judgment calculator website page that the San Diego Court system has created.  It calculates the judgment and any interest and any payments made.  The address is http://ijcalc.sdcourt.ca.gov/Default.aspx.  The manual way though requires you to recast the judgment amount with interest on the original principal amount only up to the date of the payment that was made.  Then the principal amount is reduced by the amount paid.  A more thorough explanation is contained on the San Diego Count small claims self-help website, http://ijcalc.sdcourt.ca.gov/JCalcUserGuide.pdf.  Make sure once you have calculated the interest and payments and costs that you update the court with a memorandum of costs after judgment, (MC -012).  This will include all the costs of your attempts to collect your money and enforce your judgment.

Before you begin enforcement of judgment procedures it is necessary to form a basic picture of what assets your judgment debtor has for you to collect against.  The first type of thing to look for is real estate.  Does your judgment debtor own the house they live in?  Do they have any rental property or any investment property?  The easiest way to start your search is to look online at the County Clerk/Recorder/Assessor website in the county in which the judgment debtor resides.  Every county, borough, or parish in the nation has an equivalent to the county clerk/recorder/assessor.  Many counties have what is called a property information management system, or PIMS.  A quick google search will give you a starting point.  Look for property information management systems in google and type in .gov.  Most government websites are .gov, some are .org.

Continue Reading