Are Judges Biased Against Consumers?

by John Skiba
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I know that it is impossible to answer this question.  There are thousands of judges in various courts around the nation, not all of them deal with consumer debt issues, and generally the specific facts of a case will guide the outcome.  However, lately I have had a few experiences in trials that have given me a fair amount of dismay as far as the attitudes of some judges towards consumer debt collection lawsuits.  In the state where I live, many of the lawsuits dealing with credit card debt and those suits brought by the debt buyers (Midland Funding, Portfolio Recovery, LVNV, etc.) are brought in the justice court system.  Here the justice courts are reserved for cases where the amount in dispute is less than $10,000.  These courts are presided over by a Justice of the Peace.  Many (if not most) of the Justices are not lawyers and do not come from legal backgrounds.

In the two trials I had recently before two different judges both made comments that would lead one to believe that they were beginning with a presumption that the defendant owed the debt and it was merely a matter of calculating what was owed.  In one of the cases the plaintiff, a debt buyer, failed to even show up at the trial. Despite the plaintiff’s failure to even come to court the judge began calculating the amounts owed and made the comment that “if you used the credit card you are going to be held responsible for paying the credit card.”  This was disheartening for my client – especially in light of the fact that we were prepared to show bank statements from my client that he had paid this debt in full but was sued anyway.  I requested that the case be dismissed as the plaintiff didn’t bother to show up.  The judge finally agreed to dismiss the case, but did so without prejudice – meaning that the debt buyer is free to file the lawsuit again if they wish.  My past experience tells me that if my client, the consumer, had failed to show up to trial, that very little, if any, similar consideration would be given to them.

This article is not meant as a rant against any particular person or court, but my attempt to shed some light on the fact that how successful you are in defending yourself against a debt buyer lawsuit depends not only on your facts and the applicable law in your case, but which court and which judge hears your case.  In preparing for trial it is always a good idea to review the bio of the judge assigned to your case (often found on the court’s website).  What is their background?  Is your judge an attorney?  How long have they been a judge?  In preparing for a case often younger lawyers will go and watch other hearings or trials that their judge is handling to get an idea of how the judge runs their courtroom.

For example, when I have a trial set in one of the justice courts I always read up on the Justice of the Peace to see if they are a lawyer and if not what their prior career was.  It is also helpful if I know how long they have been on the bench.  The reason why this is helpful is often the defenses in debt buyer cases are legal defenses dealing with things like the Rules of Evidence.  Knowing my judge’s background allows me to tailor my arguments and how I present my case to that particular judge.

The facts, the law, and the evidence are all very important to the outcome of your case.  Understanding that the person assigned to decide your case comes to the bench with their own view points, biases, and life experiences can give you a leg up on the debt buyer and help you in obtaining a positive result in your case.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© John Skiba, Arizona Consumer Law Group, PLC | Attorney Advertising

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