Monday, February 18 2013, 10:49 PM MST
Small Claims Court Winnings Can Be Difficult to Collect
By Matt Gephardt
Produced by Cindy St. Clair
Edited by Jay Hancock
(KUTV) Mary Ann Rackham is not happy with her relatively new kitchen cabinets. Mary Ann paid to renovate her kitchen five years ago but she says the cabinets have been falling apart from the start with fading, warping wood and peeling veneer. In some places, the cabinets are held together with scotch tape and worse, the job did not adhere to city building codes.
Mary Ann took the cabinet company to small claims court and in December of 2008 she won a judgment of $7,630. But it’s a judgment that Mary Ann says she has been unable to collect.
Mary Ann says she is frustrated with the court. “I think it's a waste of taxpayer money if it's not going to serve us,” she said.
Mary Ann is not alone. Get Gephardt investigated and the numbers are pretty staggering. According to state records for 2010, for cases where the court is trying to collect on behalf of a citizen, 37% of the time the court turned the debt over to a collection department for no payment. And in 2010, the Utah courts had more than $100 million that they were trying to collect that was at some point past due.
Consumer attorney Michele Anderson-West says she was not surprised by our findings. She says that it's so common to not see money from a won court case that she warns her clients before they go to court: they need to be ready to lose the filing fee and get nothing in return.
“Collecting the judgment is the hardest part,” Anderson-West said. “[The client] has to be ok with losing that additional money for the hope of recouping what they lost.”
As for Mary Ann, Get Gephardt called the cabinet company on her behalf. The owner told us he planned to pay her eventually, but business has been slow.
Mary Ann says she's frustrated.
“You've got a piece of paper with the judgment on it, the judge telling him to make it right, but he doesn't have to do anything.”
There are ways the court can force someone to pay on a judgment. The court can garnish wages or in extreme situations seize property. But judges tend not to be proactive which means that if you win a judgment that isn’t paid you have to bring the case back to the court, which means more filing fees for you for a debt that might be really tough to ever collect.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)