Never miss your court date

This is pretty much sound advice, and advice I definitely kept in my own personal dealings. You see, I have the unfortunate ability to say that I was involved in a lawsuit — and I was the defendant.

One of my creditors decided to take me to court to sue me over a debt that had gone unpaid. The court date was set for March 11.

Now let me first explain this debt so you’ll get an idea of how far things went. The last payment on the debt was I believe in July 2008. In March 2008, I was laid off from my job and started collecting unemployment when my severance package ran out at the end of April 2008. Anyone who’s been on unemployment knows that, if you’re used to making more than $20K per year, you’re stuck.

The money I was receiving had to go to the most essential expenses: rent, my car, utilities, and groceries. Practically all of my credit accounts fell behind, and almost all fell into collections.

Now back in August 2009, I received first communication from the collector in question, and the address on the envelope was for Kansas City — the creditor placed the account with a local debt collector, certainly a smart move. Within a short time I sent off the validation request and waited for the validation materials to come back.

That didn’t happen, though. The next mailing I received from the collector was another letter that was another attempt to collect — a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. I sent them a reminder that the debt was still considered disputed and that their attempt at collection was in violation of the law.

Really what I should’ve done, in hindsight, was not said anything and let them instead rack up the violations, but oh well.

In January of 2010, I was informed by mail that they were pursuing this debt through the Court. They provided the case number and all details, and I awaited service which would happen on February 13 with the court date set for March 11.

On March 8 I paid off the debt collector, in full. Because this happened so close to the court date, they said they’ll go for a dismissal in person in Court on the court date.

The account representative also said that I didn’t have to show up in person in Court.

Good thing I have a natural distrust for people to whom I previously owed money. Never trust when a person says, "You don’t have to show up in Court", or "Just ignore the papers".

So I decided to show up anyway, and it’s a good thing I did. As I sat in the gallery as a lot of people filed into Court, the bailiff walked around to collect everyone’s court documents to present to the Clerk, just to see who showed and who didn’t. A few minutes later they were handed back to us.

About 15 minutes later came the "oyez, oyez" — everyone rising as the judge entered the Court to preside.

When my case was called, and I approached the bench, I was asked only one question, "Do you agree or disagree with the petition?" Or something along those lines.

My response was that the debt had been resolved earlier this week. Simple response, to which the woman who asked the question requested the judge for a settlement hearing, which was scheduled for April 15.

I remember when walking out of the courtroom how surreal the experience seemed.

What would have happened if I never showed? I’m not entirely sure. But I’m glad I showed up. On March 23, I received in the mail a copy of a court filing showing that the plaintiff in the case — i.e. the debt collector — was moving forward with a dismissal, which was made final by the Court on March 26.

So if you’re ever served with a lawsuit and summoned to Court, don’t miss that court date unless you have confirmed with the Court that you do not need to show. For some, you might think this is common sense, but many debt collectors do bank on you not showing up to Court.

Never miss your court date.