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1.4.9.5 Hallway Conferences and Judgeless Courtrooms

When consumers do appear in court for their collection lawsuit, collection attorneys typically try to convince them to settle rather than appearing before the judge or magistrate. Court officials often direct consumers to speak to these attorneys.371 Consumers may feel pressured to settle instead of disputing the debt in court.372 Moreover, unrepresented consumers who are appearing in court for the first time are at a significant disadvantage against collection attorneys who have frequently represented creditors in hundreds or thousands of cases, often in the very same courtroom.373 Consumers may not understand that these attorneys are not officers of the court or that the “advice” of these attorneys to settle is not necessarily in the consumer’s best interest.374

Human Rights Watch has also reported on the existence of “judgeless” courtrooms in at least four states.375 In one such courtroom in Philadelphia, consumers were summoned to a courtroom, where collection attorneys ran the proceedings, escorting consumers one at a time into a private meeting room at the back of the court to pressure them into entering repayment agreements.376 Although an employee of the court was present, he never addressed the defendants or explained that they had a right to a hearing before a judge.377 The trial commissioner reported that defendants agreed to pay in eighty percent of cases.378

One study in Maryland found that the majority of consent judgments were for the full amount of the complaint.379 Indeed, consumers may believe that their only option was agreeing to pay the full amount that they allegedly owe.380

Footnotes

  • 371 See, e.g., Chris Albin-Lackey, Rubber Stamp Justice: US Courts, Debt Buying Corporations, and the Poor 54–57 (Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2016).

  • 372 See, id.; Patrick Lunsford, Arm Data Exchange Standards Focus of FTC/CFPB Collection Roundtable (insideARM, June 7, 2013) (Maryland Assistant Attorney General accused collection industry of using conversations with consumers to “coerce” settlements).

  • 373 See Chris Albin-Lackey, Rubber Stamp Justice: US Courts, Debt Buying Corporations, and the Poor 53 (Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2016).

  • 374 See id. at 56.

  • 375 Id. at 57.

  • 376 Id. at 58.

  • 377 Id.

  • 378 Id. at 59.

  • 379 Peter Holland, Junk Justice: A Statistical Analysis of 4400 Lawsuits Filed by Debt Buyers, 26 Loy. Consumer L. Rev. 179, 213–214 (2014) (for unrepresented consumers who did not file notice of intention to defend, 79% of consent judgments were for amount demanded in complaint; for self-represented consumers who did file notice of intention to defend, 69% of consent judgments were for full amount).

  • 380 Chris Albin-Lackey, Rubber Stamp Justice: US Courts, Debt Buying Corporations, and the Poor 55 (Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2016).