I pretty much always consider myself to be “The Hero.” No, not fighting on behalf of consumers against “The Man”, but, as my five year old daughter puts it, “Making People Keep Their Promises.”
We sued a company, whom I shall refer to as “Dastardly Cheaters”, for their unpaid lease payments for commercial vehicles that they leased from Gotham City Bank, for about $7,000. The leases were personally guaranteed by someone whom I will refer to as “Pauline”.
Neither Dastardly nor Pauline ever responded, so we entered a default judgment against both. In the enforcement of the judgment, we ascertained that Dastardly was out of business, and the owner, Snively, filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy, and was now a tenant at Gotham’s finest State Penitentiary. However, we found Pauline’s place of employment, working at Bullseye, a big national retail store, for $10 an hour. Naturally, we started a wage garnishment.
Several weeks into the garnishment, we were served with an Order to Show Cause to Vacate the default judgment, on behalf of Pauline. The papers were entirely handwritten, and stated “I don’t have an account at Gotham City Bank, and I never worked at Dastardly Cheaters.” Pauline proceeded to explain that she was having extreme financial difficulty. She explained that her mother was in a coma, and she was taking care of her sister, who was 11 years old. In addition, she had her own two year old baby.
I appeared in Court, not to oppose the application, but to do further investigation. To my luck, it wasn’t Judge Penguin on the bench, but a Judge I was familiar with, Judge Apathetic. When I met Pauline, she appeared to be no older than twenty years old, with a stroller and her baby. “Go outside and settle the case.” The Judge snarked.
I went into the hallway to speak to Pauline, who broke down in tears, and she did not know why we were there. She just stated that she could not afford the garnishment. I told her that she guaranteed the debt of Dastardly, which was owned by Snively. She explained to me that she never met Snively. She was dating a guy, Total Loser, who was Snively’s friend. One day, while in the hospital with her mother, Total Loser came to her, and asked her to sign a document to help him get an apartment. Pauline unwittingly signed it. What she did not realize that she was signing, was Snively’s guarantee. I asked her where Total Loser was, and she explained that he was murdered earlier that year.
The facts were simply too crazy to not believe. When we went back into the Judge, he looked at me, and said “Well, it doesn’t look like she has a defense. Miss, did you ever get these papers?”
“Yes, I got them at work.”
“I don’t know why this Order was even signed. Motion denied. Judgment stands.”
Pauline nodded, and once again broke down in tears. Normally, I would be ecstatic to receive a decision from the bench, denying the Defendant’s motion. But in this case, sympathy took over.
I spoke to the client, and described Pauline’s tale of woe. Gotham City Bank actually agreed with me, and told me to close the file. I called Pauline to tell her that the Bank was willing to close the matter, and she was overjoyed. However, she said that she realized that she signed the document, and was responsible. I told her not to worry about it. She promised that she would try to come up with the money.
The next week, we began receiving checks for $20 from Pauline. She attached a note. “Thank you for your sympathy. But I made a promise.”
Timothy Wan is a partner in the firm Smith Carroad Levy & Wan, in Commack, New York, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pauline made a few dozen $20 payments, and then stopped. Clearly, we took no further action.