Most people that get sued by a debt buyer like Midland Funding or Portfolio Recovery usually represent themselves in court. I understand why people do this – money (or the lack thereof). But far too often I run into people who represent themselves in their debt collection case, proceed to lose their case, and then come to me and finally reach out for help.
Again, I understand why people wait to get me involved, but in this post I want to discuss why it will save you money in the end to get an attorney involved early on in your debt collection case.
A Misstep Early On Can Cost You Your Case
In Arizona, if you represent yourself in court, the judge is required to hold you to the same standard as they do the attorney for the debt buyer. This means that the judge must assume that you know the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, the Arizona Rules of Evidence, and the relevant case law, just as well as the attorney you are going up against.
And while much of the rules are out there on the internet, if you are not well versed in how these rules are applied and how courts have interpreted them it will be difficult at best to apply them correctly. And if you don’t understand the rules of the game you are playing, it is going to be difficult to win.
Here are a few of the common mistakes I see from people representing themselves:
Telling Your Side of the Story in the Answer – the first document you file in the debt collection lawsuit is the Answer. The Answer is really nothing more than you either admitting or denying the allegations of the Complaint that was served on you. However most people who represent themselves treat the Answer as if it were there time to tell their side of the story. I see everything from telling the judge why they didn’t pay the original creditor, discussions of settlement offers, to defendants asking the court to set up a payment plan.
These types of admissions or not only unnecessary but may really cost you in the end.
Failing to Disclose Evidence or Witnesses - In Arizona you are required to exchange an Initial Disclosure Statement with the debt buyer’s attorney forty (40) days after you file your Answer. If you fail to disclose a document or witness you need at trial it is unlikely that you will be able to use that document or witness in trial. This can make presenting your defense nearly impossible.
Not Filing a Response to a Motion for Summary Judgment – many times a debt buyer will try and trip you up by filing a Motion for Summary Judgment. This is the debt buyer’s way of trying to get the judge to rule on the case without it having to go to trial. If you don’t file a written response the court can enter judgment against you.
Many times I have a person come into my office and tell me that they are waiting for their day in court. Little did they know that the court entered judgment against them a month ago because they didn’t file a response to the Motion for Summary Judgment.
Failing to Make the Appropriate Objections at Trial – If you have been sued by one of the big debt buyers like Midland Funding, Portfolio Recovery, or CACH, LLC there is a good chance you could win your case – if it is handled properly. But if you don’t win your trial, and want to appeal your case it is going to be vital that you made the proper objections at trial.
In most cases when you file an appeal you don’t simply “re-do” the trial. The appellate court will look at the transcript of the trial and see if the judge ruled correctly on your objections. If you didn’t make any objections there is nothing for the appellate court to rule on! That is why it is so important that you make the proper objections at trial, even if you lose your case.
This all leads to my main point. You will do yourself (and me) a huge favor if you get your attorney involved in your case from the early stages. When I am hired to handle a trial or an appeal I am often stuck with the cards I have been dealt. However, if I can get into a case early and get the information I need the result is often much better – and the better result I can obtain, the more money that will save you in the end.