History of the
Judgment Enforcement Problem
By: Joe H. Dickerson, CFE
80 percent of the civil money judgments in the United States are never collected. This begs the question: Why? People or businesses file civil lawsuits because they’ve been damaged, and they’re entitled to recover their losses, plus interest, legal fees, and often are entitled to recover other costs of collection. Note: when drafting the judgment language for the judge’s signature, many attorneys stop with “legal fees.” Be sure to have the attorney include “plus the cost of collections.” That way forensic researchers and experts such as forensic accountants, digital (computer and telephonic) experts, offshore attorneys, and investigators, etc. will be included, and all their fees and costs can be recovered.
Everyone knows or believes that if you have to file a civil suit to recover your losses and your costs, etc., when you win, the court awards you the money judgment and the defendant has to pay. You get back everything you lost, plus your costs in legal fees, until you recover everything that was awarded to you.
Sorry. I’ve got bad news for you. Perhaps your attorney failed to warn you beforehand, but that’s just not the way it works. The court does not make the bad guys pay. The court merely applies the law to the facts as presented by the plaintiff ’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney, then renders an opinion
If the facts prove your claim, then you win. But the courts in the United States do not make the guilty party pay in civil cases. You receive a piece of paper from the court, as I like to say, “suitable for framing,” called a Judgment.
The judgment basically says, “Congratulations, you’re the winner. Because you’ve been damaged, you’re entitled to recover from the judgment debtor’s X-million dollars, whatever that amount is, plus Y amount of legal fees and costs. And, oh yeah, you may also be entitled to post judgment interest, and (in most cases, if your attorney remembered to ask for it) you may also be entitled to recover the cost of collecting the judgment you just won (which is usually not requested by the attorney). Have a nice day.”
The judgment debtor is free to walk out of court (if having bothered to show up) and go about life as the debtor sees fit. You walk out of court knowing you’re the winner, and your attorney really showed the bad guys who’s right. After a month or six weeks, checking your mailbox every day, you decide that you better call your attorney and explain to him or her that the check for your judgment never arrived. Unfortunately, that’s the first time many victims learn that, although they won, they may never get the money that the court said is due to them. Your attorney failed to tell you, when you win a lawsuit and are awarded a money judgment, whether it’s $5,000 or $50,000,000, that doesn’t mean you get the money. It just means you have the right to get the money, if you can find it and successfully take it. 80 percent of the time, the judgments granted by the courts to the plaintiffs, also known as the victims, are never paid. That’s right, 80 percent of the civil judgments in the United States are never collected. Usually, there was no due diligence done to determine collectability before the lawsuit was filed.
Since you won the lawsuit, that leaves you with only two things to do. Using the power of the court and a good asset-recovery/judgment- enforcement team, you can do the following:
- Locate and document the debtor’s money or other assets anywhere in the world.
- Recover the money or assets that can be turned into money. It can be done—we have made such recoveries for several decades.
Typically, the victim of a Ponzi scheme, fraud, embezzlement, contract dispute, or other wrong will take the complaint to an attorney. The attorney will then review the facts of the case, and if convinced there is a good chance the case might be a winner, that attorney will advise the client to file suit. A few weeks after a successful trial, judgment is entered; when the check does not arrive, the client calls the attorney to find out just when to expect arrival of that money. And that’s when the shocking truth is revealed: The “winner” may never get paid.
The court does not make the bad guys pay. The court just applies the law to the fact-situation. Often, you’re awarded the judgment plus the post judgment cost, but you have to find it to collect the money. That’s up to you. Unfortunately, attorneys are seldom taught the intricate details and boring mechanics of the art and science of forensic research to locate and document the hidden and diverted assets needed to satisfy that judgment. There are many good reasons why 80 percent of the civil judgments in the United States are never collected.
It’s Dirty Work
For many years, collection work was considered beneath many attorneys. It was the dirty work that most respected firms did not want to get involved in. That’s beginning to change, particularly since the economy got tough in the mid-eighties and again around 2008. Therefore, many attorneys have thought more about being willing to take that kind of work, due to the significant change in the economy and recognizing there is a lot more legal work to be had.
There’s still a significant shortage of professionals who have the training and experience to successfully enforce judgments. This is not a skill set that’s taught in any detail in most of the law schools, and it’s not an area of law where trial and error is in the best interest of the clients.
The best results are obtained using combined skills of an experienced attorney who specializes in judgment enforcement or creditors’ rights and an experienced team of financial forensic researchers, digital computer experts, questioned-document examiners, forensic accountants, and experienced analysts, who can and will dig several layers deeper, even offshore, until they locate and help recover their client’s money.
Many courts are now pushing for the parties to settle their cases before proceeding to trial. There’s often mandatory mediation or arbitration processes ordered by the court. Even with an award, stipulated or confessed judgment from such processes, the odds are still 80 to 20 that you’re never going to recover your money. It’s still up to the judgment creditor and the retained team of experts to make that happen. Neither successful forensic research nor great legal work will succeed alone. It takes a team made up of the right professionals for each unique case and its specific facts.
The above is an excerpt from the International Best Seller Book,
“Diagnostic & Prescriptive Judgment Enforcement” by Joe H. Dickerson, CFE, the nation’s leading expert on financial forensic judgment enforcement.
Diagnostic & Prescriptive Judgment Enforcement
By: Joe H. Dickerson, CFE
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