A “rocket docket” is a term used for courts in some states that now allow debt collectors and creditors to pursue their claims against debtors without having a judge present to preside over matters. Should you ever find yourself called before such a court, you need to remember that all debtors possess certain legal rights.
For example, even if you owe every penny a debt collector says you do, you always have the legal right to be provided with current documentation stating the amount owed. You also deserve to be treated fairly and provided with reasonable guidance as to how you should respond to the claim being brought against you. Unfortunately, now that America’s gap between the wealthy and the poor keeps widening, people who are truly poor and in debt can often be denied critical, “one-on-one” legal help and guidance. At least, this is how many consumer advocates view the approach of today’s “rocket docket” courtrooms.
Where Are They -- And How Do Some Rocket Dockets Handle Their Caseloads?
A number of states, including Texas, California, Indiana, New York and Massachusetts now subject their debtors to courtroom proceedings that don’t even offer the presence of a judge.
When “rocket dockets” are used, individual debtors are handled in a rather impersonal, group fashion. Since the poor are arguably denied rights that those in power think they don’t need, far too many courts are now claiming they just don't have the judicial resources to process all of their debt collection cases the way they once did (throughout all recent decades).
How An Individual Debtor Can Be Treated in a “Rocket Docket” Case
Odds are, you will first receive a court summons “strongly suggesting” you appear in a specific local courtroom (on a set date and a set time) to attend a “resolution conference” [or trial] regarding your debt. Unfortunately, most laypeople can't really tell if they must appear and what will happen when they arrive.
For starters, there will rarely, if ever, be a judge or mediator present to ensure that all courtroom procedures are properly followed. Most of the time, debtors assume they won't need an attorney – even though they will very soon find themselves expected to “negotiate” a debt settlement with an experienced [and often high-powered] attorney present on behalf of the bank, financial institution or third-party debt collector.
While on many occasions a legal aid representative may be present to give debtors general advice, that's clearly not the same as having your own attorney present who fully understands your situation and the way procedural due process works. That’s why judges used to always be present – since everyone knows most debtors can’t afford to hire a private attorney.
What usually first happens is that you’re expected to sit down and wait for your name to be called. Then, you'll be introduced to the debt collector’s attorney. Although consumer advocates advice against the next step, you’ll probably have to do as told when “asked” to join this lawyer out in the hallway to cut a deal regarding the repayment of your debt. You are clearly not on an even playing field at this point – at least not in the eyes of consumer advocates.
What Can You or Your Family Members Do When Summoned to A Court Like This?
As noted above, this type of courtroom proceeding has not yet reached the state of Georgia. However, should this one day happen to you in this state -- or to a relative in one of the states mentioned above, a consumer protection attorney should be called immediately and asked for advice on how to proceed. After all, if the summoned party fails to appear, there’s a very strong chance a default judgment will be entered against that individual.
If you are currently deep in debt and strongly believe that unfair debt collection practices are being used against you, you may need to file a lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
If you believe that you’re a victim of any abusive debt collection practices, contact the Law Offices of Georgia consumer protection attorney Shane Smith so that you can learn more about your rights under federal and state consumer protection statutes. Call (770) 487-8999 today to schedule your free initial consultation.