Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dealing With Court Clerks

I am not a lawyer. This is my opinion and a summary of what I have learned and observed. If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer.

"I can't give you legal advice" is something you consistently read and hear at the court clerk's window. This is occasionally maddening when you ask questions that don't seem to need a lawyer to answer - such as how many copies should I make, or where do I sign, or is this form complete?

I hear stories such as this from judgment enforcers: "I went to the courthouse to learn the specific forms or filing procedures that were preferred, only to be met with ignorance and arrogance. There were NO LEGAL ADVICE GIVEN signs all over the clerk's office."

"I explained to the clerk who I was and what I do, and made my inquiry. The clerk told me she doesn't give legal advice and pointed to the signs. I explained that I was not looking for legal advice, rather, I was just inquiring about the proper forms, to which she replied that what I was doing was illegal (legal advice) and I'd better not let an attorney hear what I was doing or I would be brought up on charges of practicing law without a license (more legal advice)."

"I further explained how judgment enforcers work, and that what I was doing was perfectly legal, but wanted to know if this county uses any particular forms for Assignment of Judgment, levying, etc. The clerk said that they do not deal with this on a regular basis and she didn't know, and also told me that this is why lawyers go to school for many years."

Court clerks, although they are usually helpful, are not permitted to give out legal advice to anyone, so many new judgment owners and enforcers hit a dead end when they first deal with court clerks.

You have to play their game. Always keep your cool. If the clerks will not budge, perhaps mail them a letter (on your letterhead) and include a business card. Wait a week; then call and ask what days would be best to come in. When you come back, the clerks will have some idea of whom you are and what you are doing, and will usually be more receptive.

If you conduct yourself as a polite professional, you will most likely find the clerks warming up to you. If they won't let you look at case files, a polite letter to the court clerk supervisor, explaining what you want to do and your business card, may help.

Sometimes no matter how professional and polite you are, the court clerks will not budge. If you don't know the laws of your state on what you want to file, and what the court clerk should do, you should retreat and learn the laws.

If you know the law, you can ask the clerk if you can "demand to file" your document. You can also ask to speak with a supervisor, but if you do, prepare to wait a long time while the clerks discuss the matter with themselves or a judge. It's best to bring a copy of the laws that support what you want to do.

Many things can be done over the phone - such as scheduling a motion hearing. You just call the court (civil division) and tell them you need to schedule a motion hearing. They will ask what type. You tell them what it is for (assignment order, turnover order, wage garnishment on non judgment debtor spouse). They will give you a date, department and time. Also ask if they have any language that needs to be in the notice for tentative rulings. Most do.

You can you deal with court clerks by mail or by phone. In person, what counts is how polite you are - multiplied by how often you see the same people. Even in bad courts, there are good clerks. Even in good courts, there are sometimes clerks who don't like working, or don't like learning new things.

By: Mark Shapiro
Mark Shapiro - http://www.JudgmentBuy.com