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Lovely_Lady

What should I do now after receiving a default (not default judgment) for a collection's debt?

5 posts in this topic

My question involves collection proceedings in the State of: New Jersey

Hello All. 

I am new here as some of you can tell and I am very appreciative of the fact that I ran into this forum. I am having a civil legal issue right now where I am being sued for over $6000 that I know I do not owe.

You see it all started when I went to attend a school in New Jersey (that was not accredited) about 6 1/2 years ago. Upon graduation I was not able to find work in the field that I had gone to school for 6 months. The field was medical assisting and I remember going to interviews regarding this particular field and interviewers would straight up laugh in my face upon learning WHERE I had actually attended school. It was most definitely a learning experience and I finally just gave up on medical assisting altogether (after not being able to even find volunteer work in that field) and decided to change my career focus.

In the year 2015 I had received a letter from a collection agency stating that on behalf of the medical assisting school that I attended they were collecting money from me. I ended up responding to their letter by asking them to provide all of the necessary documents that showed that they purchased the debt from the school, owned the debt etc. This collection agency never responded to my request and never after that contacted me again. I was glad because at that time I had a lot going on and I knew that the money they were attempting to collect was not money that I had ever owed to the school. You see, the school and I (as well as all of the other students) had a contract. In the contract states it clearly states that any student that EITHER graduates on time OR has a grade point average of 2.5 or above at the time of graduation was not liable to pay a stipend that we had received from the school. (The stipend equaled out to about $5000.) I had not only graduated on time, I also maintained a GPA of 3.2. Also, the amount that was to be paid (if I had failed to maintain the 2.5 GPA and didn’t graduate on time was supposed to be to at least start being paid six months after the graduation date. I graduated successfully in March.

Years later (in May of 2017) I was mailed a letter from a different collection agency stating that I was being sued for over $6000 for this same “debt”. I was shocked and very upset at the time that I received this letter since it was time when so many things good things seemed to be happening around me. Anyway, I went on to file my own ANSWER and soon after hired an attorney for my case. The attorney informed me that the debt was unfortunately not yet beyond the statute of limitations and said I had a case. He was paid $1500 up front.

For the first court appearance, my lawyer was late. We went into a room with the plaintiff's lawyer (the plaintiff never showed) and I decided not to take any offer that the plaintiff’s attorney offered me. I knew that I didn't owe this money and I wanted to win the case and then sue the plaintiff for my lawyer's fees. The plaintiff’s didn’t have any paperwork saying they owned the debt. Also, they had the contract stating that if I graduated on time and maintained a 2.5 GPA that I would not have to pay the money back. All of this information was in the discovery. During this mediation, the plaintiff’s lawyer also told my lawyer that when my lawyer filed the paperwork in order to let the court know that he was going to be my attorney and that I was no longer representing myself that he filed the paperwork incorrectly. After the mediation, my lawyer asked the judge if he had filled out that particular correctly. The judge then rescheduled the trial stated that he could look at the paperwork in order to decide whether it had been filled out correctly or not. 

About a month and a half later, I came back to court prepared for trial. Once I got there I of course was looking for my attorney and he was nowhere to be found. Finally, he ended up showing up (maybe 45 minutes after roll call.) Anyway, the plaintiff's attorney was seemingly upset about the long wait yet again, the plaintiff was a no show. The plaintiff's attorney was the only one there and my lawyer could not get the judge to dismiss the case. The judge rescheduled the trial for another 3 weeks and stated that he wanted to give the plaintiff a chance to show up for court. 

After we left the courtroom my attorney asked me if I had (at my home) a copy of the interrogatories that the plaintiff sent. My response was that everything I had received in the mail prior to me hiring him had been given to him. I actually remember him looking over the interrogatories for my case the first time I went to his office. So, this guy some how lost the interrogatories and explained that he never sent them to the plaintiff’s lawyer.

Now it's the day of the trial. I was running late being as though I was depending on someone else to help me get to court. (This was the day after a huge snowstorm and the court had a delayed opening.) I called my lawyer to let him know I'd be about 15 minutes late (I know) and he told me he would be there. Well, I guess he never actually said he would be there on time. I arrived at the court 15 minutes late and the court room was absolutely empty except for the clerk and security. The clerk informed me that all of the cases had been called and that my case was now in default. Default! After me showing up all three times for all three appearances and the plaintiff never showing up once. Default. Also, where was my lawyer? I didn't know what to do at this point. I was so livid that I parked it right on a bench located right outside the courtroom. 

After maybe 5 minutes my lawyer texts me and tells me not to go the courthouse because all of the cases had already called which let me know that he had been late also again. I then responded to to his text letting him know that I was at the courthouse. I also asked if I had received a default judgment since neither one of us was at court on time. He never responded. I called his office maybe 3 times throughout the course of that day and never received a call back. I emailed him and finally received a response from him two or three days later via email stating that I had not received a default judgment and that the case was in “default” because we both had failed to show up on time and that he would have to file a motion to vacate the default. He didn’t seem very happy in the email and stated that (since I owe him $1000 more in fees) that he would not continue without me first paying him that amount. I mean, maybe I'm wrong but I'm accruing all these fees when he probably should have been able to get this case dismissed months ago. I’ve tried to contact him by phone and email and he is no longer accepting my phone calls or responding to my emails.

My fears are he will continue to ignore my calls and emails even though I will continuously pay this attorney and that he is going to either be late for any more of my court appearances, not know how to properly file certain paperwork and/or not respond to my calls or email. My fear is that after all of this I will have spent all this money on him, but I will have to pay the $6260 dollars to the collection agency that is suing me as well. It seems that what is so simple usually has been made so complex and costly. 
He doesn't seem very professional and I am very concerned about the well being of my case. I called the court and they confirmed that my case is in default and that I do not have a default judgment yet.


Here are my questions:

Question 1: What is the difference between a default and a default judgment?
Question 2: How long will I be able file this motion to vacate or set aside this order or disposition?
Question 3: Are there any steps that I can take in order to complain about this lawyer's behavior? Do my issues with this lawyer seem valid? He doesn't seem to be taking my case seriously. 

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15 hours ago, Lovely_Lady said:

Question 1: What is the difference between a default and a default judgment?

 

A court can enter an order of default if the defendant does not answer the complaint or fails to appear at a required court hearing.

 

An order of default is, in effect, a determination that the defendant is liable to the plaintiff.

It does not finally establish how much the defendant owes to the plaintiff, however.

 

Once an order of default has been issued, the plaintiff can then file papers to obtain a default judgment, which will be a determination of how much the defendant owes to the plaintiff.

 

15 hours ago, Lovely_Lady said:

Question 2: How long will I be able file this motion to vacate or set aside this order or disposition?

 

The paperwork that accompanied the order of default should indicate the deadline. If not, consult with a lawyer in New Jersey ASAP -- the times for moving to vacate orders of default can be short.  In my home state, a defendant has 30 days after entry of an order of default to file a motion to vacate it.

 

If the order of default is not vacated, the defendant can still fight the default judgment and challenge how much is owed.

But the plaintiff can use a simplified procedure for this where the amount claimed is a definite amount (or is a readily calculable amount). From your description of the history of the dispute, it seems like that route would be available to the plaintiff in your matter.

 

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On 5/15/2018 at 7:41 AM, RetiredinVA said:

In order toanswer your questions we need to know exactly what is in the court's file.  What is the difference between a default and a default judgment can only be answered by knowing exactly what the judge decided.

 

You can file a complaint with the Office of Attorney Ethics at https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/attorneys/oae.html

Thank you..

 

On the court records website, it is showing that my case is currently on default. So far, it is not yet showing that I have a default judgment.

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On 5/15/2018 at 10:45 AM, MiddlePart said:

 

A court can enter an order of default if the defendant does not answer the complaint or fails to appear at a required court hearing.

 

An order of default is, in effect, a determination that the defendant is liable to the plaintiff.

It does not finally establish how much the defendant owes to the plaintiff, however.

 

Once an order of default has been issued, the plaintiff can then file papers to obtain a default judgment, which will be a determination of how much the defendant owes to the plaintiff.

 

 

The paperwork that accompanied the order of default should indicate the deadline. If not, consult with a lawyer in New Jersey ASAP -- the times for moving to vacate orders of default can be short.  In my home state, a defendant has 30 days after entry of an order of default to file a motion to vacate it.

 

If the order of default is not vacated, the defendant can still fight the default judgment and challenge how much is owed.

But the plaintiff can use a simplified procedure for this where the amount claimed is a definite amount (or is a readily calculable amount). From your description of the history of the dispute, it seems like that route would be available to the plaintiff in your matter.

 

Thank you

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