Some progress in debt-collection court

Judgments routinely favoring debt-buying companies, typically against low-income folks who may not have received proper service, understood their rights, or managed to present their defenses: that has been, at least in considerable part, the story of debt-collection court in Philadelphia. Sheller Center students have been working on the problem for several years, in partnership with Community Legal Services, the National Center for State Courts, other advocates, and the courts themselves. We’ve produced a series of reports (links below), and have done some direct representation in order to see, up close, how the process works.

Last month, we had a trial in Common Pleas Court in a credit-card-debt case that we had lost twice — first in Municipal Court, then in arbitration proceedings. Students Cathy Ginder and Nicole Kerr had worked on this case, in which — as often occurs — the debt-buyer relied on hearsay documents and offered no proof of most of the charges that our client had supposedly incurred. Those deficiencies were ignored at the earlier hearings, but on our third try, the Court saw a problem — and entered a judgment that largely favored our client.

Progress has come slowly, but we think we may finally be getting somewhere – most recently as an invited member of a new committee, convened by Municipal Court and including representatives of plaintiffs as well as defendants, charged with recommending changes. We’re looking forward to advocating for a fairer system.

Our reports:

Six Practical Ways Courts Can Reduce Default Judgments in Debt Collection Cases

Toward a More Level Playing Field: A Navigator Program for Philadelphia’s Debt-Collection Court

Preventing Unfair Default Judgments in Debt Collection Cases: Proposals for a Compliance Checklist

Enhancing Due Process in Consumer Debt Proceedings