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Debtors' Hell: A Court System Compromised

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  • Debtors' Hell: A Court System Compromised

    Debtors' Hell: A Court System Compromised
    July 31, 2006 (Boston Globe - Second of four parts)

    The line for the metal detector crept slowly at Brockton District Court on the morning of April 12, 2005. Peter Damon waited anxiously. He didn't want to be late.

    Finally, he hoped to face down for good the debt collector who had been hounding him and his mother for more than two years over a $980 credit card bill. He'd had to miss his first scheduled hearing in small-claims court a year earlier, and a note in his file explained why: ''Phone call from defendant - he is in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., upon return from Iraq and losing both arms.''

    A lot of things could have gone Damon's way in the wake of that phone call. None did.

    The clerk who took the call could have advised Damon that, under federal law, he could delay the case while he recovered.

    The court could have challenged the debt collector, Norfolk Financial Corp., about the claim in its lawsuit that Damon was not a soldier - a claim made under penalties of perjury.

    And a clerk should have simply dismissed the case when Damon, having recovered sufficiently to take a $400 flight home from the hospital, arrived for a hearing in September of 2004, only to find the collection lawyer unprepared.

    But such simple justice was denied Damon, as it is thousands of other debtors when they come up against the lowest level of the state court system.

    The ''people's court'' has become the collectors' court, a Globe Spotlight Team investigation has found. It is a de facto arm of a fast-growing and aggressive industry that has swamped court dockets with lawsuits - cases that often lead to threats of jail for debtors.

    Created to provide a low-cost, level playing field for citizens with disputes of $2,000 or less, the small-claims courts have mutated into a system that often ignores individual rights and shows favoritism toward collectors and their lawyers. On some days, indeed, collection lawyers appear to be in charge - with no oversight by judicial officials.

    AntiSpin: This superb piece of investigative reporting continues. In this part of the series, reporters Beth Healy, Michael Rezendes, Francie Latour, and Heather Allen cover a corrupt system of debt collection that abuses even the very people this nation needs to be giving special consideration, our injured war veterans.

    As we mentioned in our note on the previous installment of this series,
    reading this series, that carefully documents the way masses of citizens are systematically abused by credit agencies, collection agencies, the court system, and law enforcement will make your blood boil. But rather than just get mad, we at have an idea about how to help address the problem. Later this week, we will present this idea and allow members and visitors -- you -- an opportunity to help if you want to be part of the solution to the Red-Ink America problem and get help if you are one of its victims.