The legal industry has its own terminology, which most of us are unfamiliar with. Take the term ‘interrogatories’. An attorney or judge understands the term perfectly. As for the rest of us, not so much. The thing is that interrogatories play different roles depending on each particular case. Their use in judgment collection cases differs from their use in other civil matters.
Strictly defined, interrogatories constitute a process by which attorneys for one party in a civil matter extract information from the other party. Interrogatories can be conducted at different stages of a case. But once a case is settled and a judgment is rendered, interrogatories take on a whole new tone.
Judgments Involving Monetary Awards
The use of interrogatories post-judgment is usually related to judgments that involve a monetary award. Let us say Joe’s Auto Repair Shop sues a customer who doesn’t pay his bill. Joe’s attorney is asking for the original bill amount as well as attorney’s fees and court costs. The court agrees and enters a judgment reflecting the grand total.
By rendering a decision in the plaintiff’s favor, the court makes Joe’s a judgment creditor. Likewise, the customer becomes a judgment debtor. Now it is up to the creditor to figure out how it’s going to collect from the debtor. The first step is generally interrogatories.
Interrogatories in Simple Terms
In a judgment collection case, interrogatories conducted post-judgment are designed to give the creditor and its agents information critical to their collection efforts. Judgment Collectors, a specialized collection agency based in Salt Lake City, says that interrogatories can take place in person or through the party’s attorneys.
Some states allow interrogatories immediately following a court case. The two parties meet outside the courtroom for the exchange of information. But when state laws require a waiting period to allow for the opportunity of appeal, interrogatories usually take place at a later date.
Conducting Interrogatories Through Attorneys
Conducting interrogatories at a later date almost always means conducting them through the two parties’ attorneys. The creditor’s attorney sends a list of written questions to the debtor’s attorney with a reasonable expectation that answers will be furnished in a timely manner.
Questions relate to the debtor’s:
- current address
- contact information
- marital status
- employment status
- current income
- tangible assets.
State laws require that the information requested during interrogatories be directly related to collection efforts. Creditors and their attorneys are not allowed to request information outside the scope of reasonable collection requirements.
So Many Days to Respond
State laws also give judgment debtors a certain amount of time to respond to interrogatories. On average, it is 30 days. Within that 30-day window, debtors are expected to provide written answers through their attorneys. Creditors and their attorneys expect the answers to be complete and truthful.
How is the information utilized? Creditors take what they learn from interrogatories and use it to come up with a collection strategy. For example, information about a debtor’s employment might allow a creditor to consider wage and bank garnishment.
When Interrogatories Fail to Deliver
When all goes as it should, interrogatories produce valuable information creditors can use to their advantage. But when they fail, creditors need to look elsewhere for the information they need. Oftentimes, this is when they bring in collection agencies capable of digging around for information that isn’t offered voluntarily.
Interrogatories are a valuable tool in judgment collection cases because they give creditors information critical to their collection efforts. Whether or not judgment debtors willingly participate in interrogatories is another matter. When they don’t, they force creditors to be more aggressive in their collection efforts.
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