Being sued in LA, live in MS
September 8, 2009 2:41 PM   Subscribe

YANML, but . . . I received a summons today for Los Angeles. I live in Mississippi. What do I do?

OK, here's the deal. As a chronically broke grad student, I became unemployed the year before last and was unable to pay off a credit card to the tune of about $1300.00. They canceled my account and sent it to collections. During this time I was living in LA. I have recently moved to Mississippi. I received a piece of forwarded mail today from a law office. It contained a summons for LA Superior court for the debt that I owe the credit card company. The summons was remarkably void of information concerning who to contact and what to do, other than to get various forms from the courthouse to respond to the summons and the phone number for the law office that is suing me. I will be contacting the LA Superior Court this week, but in the meantime I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on this for me? In particular, Does the LA court have jurisdiction over me? I don't have money for a lawyer, are there any orgs that might be able to help me out with this?
posted by anansi to Law & Government (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There should be some sort of legal aid society in your community; contact them and ask them how to proceed.
posted by dfriedman at 2:45 PM on September 8, 2009

IANAL but in order to have a summons do you not need to be served by a process server? It is my understanding that a summons is not generally sent through the mail.

My real question is, Are you sure this summons is legit?
posted by caveat at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2009

Find a lawyer through the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Even if you cannot pay for a lawyer, you will probably be able to find one willing to work with you and help you. There are lawyers out there who will be able help you who legitimately want to help people in your situation.
posted by The Michael The at 2:56 PM on September 8, 2009

Best answer: I am in no way a lawyer, but I was sued a few years ago in California for the same thing. Here's my advice based upon my own experience: Can you pay the amount now? If so, I would recommend that you contact the law office that is bringing the suit and see if you can pay. This will save you from having court costs added to the amount you owe. If you can't, and you can't prove that the amount due is in error, then you really don't need to do much of anything - the court will find in favor of the other guys and then you will need to contact them to figure out how to pay the amount back (or they may [not sure about this - since you are in another state] be able to garnishee your wages. The court will contact you when the case is decided. If you can't contest the debt - then it's pretty much "case closed" I'm afraid.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:58 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANYL. Contact the local legal aid society.

Whatever you do, don't listen to advice regarding the legality or non legality of service of process. The issue is more complex than detailed above. I cannot give you an answer but this is likely small claims, which makes a gigantic difference in many jurisdictions.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it is the collection agency on a fishing expedition. If you are really concerned you should talk to a lawyer.
posted by JayRwv at 3:21 PM on September 8, 2009

As I understand it a summons needs to be served, not just emailed.
Although I am not a lawyer, I am a poor person, and I have received a few of these in the past...Usually they are simply a way for the collection agency to really get your attention.

More than likely it can be ignored. The harm to your credit is already in place..contacting them will only cause them to call you every 5 minutes throughout the day and try to collect from you. Of course you should pay off your debts, but I know sometimes you can choose to either pay the visa bill or eat..but not both.

Now that it is in collections, you may be able to pay it off for something like 3/4 - 1/2 of the total....if you can get ~$800, call them and offer...they may clear the debt.

I know it sucks, but I was in the same position for a debt of nearly 5000.
posted by AltReality at 3:30 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANAL, IANYL. But as I understand it, California has jurisdiction. I would recommend checking into local legal services asap, before calling the court.

The website for the Superior Court of California has forms that might be useful to take to your local legal aid office.
posted by motsque at 4:03 PM on September 8, 2009

Do not listen to a non-lawyer's advice on process and jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is an incredibly thorny issue.
posted by sinfony at 4:46 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Light Fantastic and JayRwv have it!

In my experience dealing with the very same issues recently... this is a fishing expedition unless your court date gets closer and you haven't taken any action.

This has happened to me a twice. One became a default judgement 4 years ago and I am right now in the process of either settling or suing the agency/lawfirm that won the judgement against me. The other summons I was served last year was easily self-negotiated the way one would handle any other collections agency debt.

(Four years ago when I was served the first summons at my residence, like you indicate, it was not clear who/what was suing me. Turned out it was for a credit card someone else took out in my name. I was so freaked out and intimidated at the time, I let it become a default judgement. If I had know it was freakin' credit fraud and that the "law office" suing me was really a glorified collection agency... fuck. I could've saved myself so much money and heartache.)

There was an AWESOME link to some credit blog/board within the past 2 weeks that might really help you - anyone in the hive remember that thread? I can't find it to post!

I haven't seen your summons. IANYL. What I am about to describe concerns my process dealing with this type of issue. MeMail if you want my attorney's name & number - he is in Los Angeles.

Anyway......As I stated, you can deal with these guys just like you would a collections agency. This is not your only option, but if you are not disputing the charges and you have reasonable belief these folks have the authority to collect on this debt, then this is (often) the cheapest route.

Option #1 - You simply ring them up and negotiate an immediate settlement (usually you offer a fraction of the total to begin the negotiation) This can cost you anywhere from 20% to 60% of the total owed. Yes, you can offer to pay them in installments!

FWIW - If you call them on the phone, you will most likely be speaking to a clerk in a collection agency that has one or a few lawyers in the office. Don't be intimidated or afraid. Do be careful in what you say if/when you ring them up.

Option #2 - You can respond in court and dispute the claim/charges/their authority to collect on the debt, etc. This option is probably better handled by an attorney.

posted by jbenben at 4:51 PM on September 8, 2009

And upon preview and with total respect - what Ironmouth says.

I hope you gleaned from my post that ignoring any sort of summons is a bad bad idea.

That said, this isn't a big-time lawsuit. You can handle this. Don't let anyone freak you out or charge you thousands to resolve it. Questioning the jurisdiction element of the issue is kinda irrelevant if you owe the money, as any effort you put into dodging the summons you could easily put into paying off this (comparatively) small debt. Get some good (free) advice from folks who can actually read the paper you received in the mail (vs. the good folks here on!) and proceed accordingly.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 5:02 PM on September 8, 2009

Best answer: I am not your lawyer. Reiterating what has been said here - do not listen to what people are telling you about whether process was properly served or whether the court has jurisdiction over you. As sinfony says, these are very thorny issues. (And it really boggles me that people feel they can answer such difficult questions without sufficient facts and legal knowledge, but whatever. That's AskMe for ya.)

I second the suggestion to call the law firm and try to work out a settlement. Since the collection agency likely bought your debt for pennies on the dollar, they will make money even if they collect less than the amount owed (sometimes far less). While the law firm might initially take a hard line, if you can offer to pay, say, half right away, they might take the deal. They might be open to other terms if you can't come up with a lump sum immediately.

If you do reach such a deal, make sure that immediate dismissal of the lawsuit is part of any agreement (and get that in writing). You could also try seeing if they will send a letter to the credit agency/ies explaining that the debt has been satisfied.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:05 PM on September 8, 2009

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