Helping courts help debtors who become defendants
Americans owe $14.15 trillion in debt that includes $9.6 trillion in mortgages, $1.5 trillion in student loans, $1.3 trillion in car loans and $930 billion in credit card balances, according to a recently released report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
These astronomical figures can be difficult to comprehend, but the impact of this debt hits home when debtors become defendants in our nation’s state courts.
More than two-thirds of civil cases filed in state courts involves lawsuits by creditors seeking payment on consumer debts. Nearly one in four civil cases are explicitly classified as consumer debt collection. Another one in 10 is a mortgage foreclosure, and about one in five involves landlords trying to evict tenants, and in many cases, collect past-due rent.
NCSC and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) teamed up to write a recently released white paper called Preventing Whack-a-Mole Management of Consumer Debt Cases: A Proposal for a Coherent and Comprehensive Approach for State Courts.
The paper makes it clear that these cases pose serious challenges to state courts because judges and other court employees often lack the resources and expertise to scrutinize the cases, and because defendants often come to court without a lawyer but are expected to understand the federal and state laws and regulations that govern debt-collection cases. The growing amount of debt means courts should expect to see more of these cases.
State courts have tried to manage these caseloads on a piecemeal basis, and some, most notably New York, have done a good job. But the white paper’s authors, NCSC’s Paula Hannaford-Agor and IALLS’ Brittany Kauffman, wrote, “To meet the challenge, state courts need to implement policies, rules, procedures, and business practices to manage consumer debt collection cases in a more consistent and coherent manner.”
The white paper is part of a larger initiative, the Civil Justice Improvement Implementation Plan, which the State Justice Institute funded. Hannaford-Agor and Kauffman urge courts to implement the plan’s recommendations, which include:
- Exercising ultimate responsibility;
- Triaging case filings with mandatory pathway assignments;
- Strategically deploying court personnel and resources;
- Using technology wisely;
- Focusing attention on high-volume and uncontested cases; and
- Providing superior access for litigants.
Go here to read more about the recommendations.
AJA hosting 2020 Educational Webinar Series on challenging court topics
The American Judges Association has selected a panel of national experts to present a series of judicial education webinars for judges and court leaders on topics challenging to courts. Participants will be able to ask questions of the experts at the end of each live presentation. The webinars will be recorded for those who may not be able to attend. Three live webinars will focus on the following topics:
- Understanding the Behavior of Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and their Victims: What Judges Need to Know
- What Every Judge & Court Leader Needs to Know
- Developing Issues with Standard Field Sobriety Tests in Impaired Driving Cases