Collecting a Judgment: The Sheriff/Deputy Is Of Vital Importance

A vital benefit the legal process of obtaining a judgment affords you is the ability to utilize the services of the local Sheriff’s Office in an effort to collect the debt. Once a judgment is recorded, the appeal period has passed, and, if required, Notice of Right to Claim Exempt Property has been served, your attorney can obtain a Writ of Execution from the Clerk of Court in the county in which the judgment was obtained. Once issued, the writ is forwarded to the Sheriff in the county in which the debtor resides or where the debtor maintains property. Once the writ is issued and transmitted to the Deputy, along with the service fee, the writ is assigned to a Deputy for collection. Each county has its own policies and procedures. Generally, there are several deputies assigned to serve papers and pursue Writs of Execution. The incentive for the Sheriff’s Department to pursue writs of execution is that it is a Court Order as well as a commission earned by the Sheriff, which does not go to the individual Deputy, but is part of the department’s budget. Different departments assign different priority levels to collections, but when our office encounters a really good Deputy, we cultivate, praise and encourage their efforts as they are the best means our clients have of success. A motivated Deputy is a treasure.

Once the writ is assigned to a Deputy, most departments have a form letter which is sent to the debtor notifying the debtor of the balance due and owing and giving them a fairly short period of time to respond. The next step, barring immediate response, is for the Deputy to go to the debtor’s residence or business. This visit serves several purposes. First, and most obvious, they want to speak with the debtor face-to-face to work on getting payment. While at the residence or business, most deputies will list visible assets which may include motor vehicles, recreational vehicles, tools, or equipment. If no one is home or at the business, they will leave a notice and card requesting a call. Many Deputies will subsequently check with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the County Tax Department, the Register of Deeds, and other public resources to check the status of vehicles listed in the name of the debtor.

If the Deputy finds assets which appear to be subject to levy, they inform us of the nature and condition of the asset as well as the levy fee (the fee required to cover the costs of towing, storage, or the like). If no assets are readily apparent, the Deputy will report that and seek information we may have. If either we or the Deputy believe that there may be bank accounts in the debtor’s name, we will obtain a judicial Order in Supplement of Execution which allows the Deputy to freeze bank accounts. Some deputies have developed the necessary relationships with their local bankers to be able to ascertain the status of accounts without an order, but the order is usually required to actually freeze the funds.

If assets are found, our office will contact our client to explain what has been located, the cost of levy, and the possibility that levying on the asset will generate funds. If the client agrees, the funds are advanced and the Deputy seizes the asset for public sale. In the sage words of a wise old lawyer (Nan Hannah’s father), you generally do not want to seize anything you have to feed or house (think: a horse).

Creditors occasionally, and inadvertently, cause problems which can sour a relationship with a Deputy. Many debtors, upon receipt of the Sheriff’s letter do a relatively natural thing, they call the person with whom they are comfortable and who they believe can make the Deputy go away – that being their salesperson with the creditor company. All too often, the salesperson, wanting to get the credit department off their back, is more than willing to accept a partial payment and discuss payment terms. This is a “no-no” without including the Deputy in the process.

First and foremost, the Deputy has earned the commission because it was the Deputy’s action that spurred the debtor’s call. Second, any payment accepted alters the amount due on the face of the writ requiring that the writ be recalled. Third, it sours relations with deputies who feel like people are undermining their efforts. Fourth, and possibly most important, the creditor’s employee who accepts the payment has no way of knowing what the Deputy has found and may be giving up the opportunity for a full recovery in a single effort. Remember, that to get back to a writ, we will need to wait for the return of the first writ, then send out Notice of Right to Claim Exempt Property, and then await the issuance of the Writ. The debtor may have wised up and may exempt property in the second round that was not claimed in the first round.It defies logic to turn down money offered to pay on a past due balance, but it is essential that once a writ is issued the Deputy be allowed to take the lead. The best thing to do once a writ is issued is to notify anyone in your organization who might hear from the debtor and make sure everyone knows that if payment is to be made it must go through the Deputy. If the debtor wants to make a payment plan, that can be negotiated through the Deputy. Do not put anything in writing to be signed by the debtor. This could constitute a new agreement and void your judgment. The best thing to do once a writ is issued is to contact your attorney if a debtor contacts you. This could save you money in the long run.