My first consult this week was for a former client who just learned of a bank garnishment of his joint bank account with his wife from an old Cach final judgment that he thought was vacated and dismissed. The entire account was frozen. Plus his wife’s next check couldn’t be stopped from being deposited and taken.
How did he learn of this? When he was at the grocery store to buy food for his family in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. After carefully avoiding everyone and loading his cart with what he could find – he walked away with nothing. He didn’t have money to pay us, but since we had been compassionate to him in the past, he thought, why not contact us, perhaps there is something we could do.
Fortunately, we were able to secure with the opposing attorney, a dissolution of the writ of garnishment and all the money in his joint bank account will be released in just a day or two. In the meantime, our client has borrowed some funds from a neighbor. This could happen to anyone — this client had no idea that this old judgment was out there, and that bank account was his emergency fund. He lost his job in Europe and had no credit cards. His wife works at a local Tampa Bay retailer and just had her hours cut. I sincerely appreciate opposing counsel who timely communicated with me in this urgent matter to get it resolved now and without the necessity of a court hearing, which could take a few weeks!
What can we do to help people in this situation — right now?
POST-JUDGMENT COLLECTIONS OF CONSUMER DEBTS
When judgments enter against consumers in collection lawsuits, creditors have access to
powerful new collection tools like garnishment that may leave consumers without enough
money to pay for basic expenses.
Until 120 days after the state of emergency is lifted from COVID-19, states should do the following to ensure that collection of judgments on old consumer debts does not harm struggling consumers:
Stay enforcement of all existing judgments, including new and existing:
Wage garnishment orders,
Bank account garnishment orders,
Offsets against benefits or tax returns,
Seizure of personal property, and
Require any property seized after the date of the stay to be returned;
Postpone any post-judgment hearings such as payment reviews;
Cease issuance and enforcement of any civil arrest warrants in collection lawsuits;
Waive post-judgment interest;
Exempt any coronavirus-related stimulus payments from garnishment; and
Suspend due dates on payments for current settlements with payment plans without any
penalty to the consumer.
These are all recommendations by NCLC – the National Consumer Law Center, who works for economic justice for low-income and other disadvantaged people in the U.S.
None of this requires a write off of debt. It’s merely insurance that people like this client of ours doesn’t fall through the cracks during this crisis. It will also help prevent a depression like event. Things will get back to normal.