I thought it would be useful and interesting to point your attention to this blog post on JDSupra.com titled “Are Judges Biased Against Consumers?”
In it, bankruptcy attorney John Skiba gives some personal anecdotes in an attempt to answer his question: “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.”
What struck me, reading this, is that a similar article could have been written by a collection attorney with just some minor tweaks. We could title it “Are Judges Biased Against Collection Agencies?” and fix the above sentence to read “…with a presumption that the collection agency was acting improperly in collecting the debt and it was merely a matter of calculating what the debtor was owed.”
Skiba suggests that the types of courts these cases are argued in can make a difference: “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.”
Skiba provides a set of rhetorical questions that he finds helpful when 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.”
He gives some reasons behind his practice: “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.”
It would be great to hear from collection attorneys in the comments. Do you agree with Skiba? Are you finding that justices of the peace tend to side with the creditor over the debtor? Are there cases that are easier to defend?