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Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher Announces New Meassures to Assist Debtors in the Civil Court

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

  • By: Rochelle Klempner
  • Organization: Civil Court of the City of New York

ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE FERN A. FISHER ANNOUNCES NEW MEASURES TO ASSIST DEBTORS IN THE CIVIL COURT

NEW YORK CITY-Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher, in response to record level numbers of consumer credit transaction cases in the Civil Court of the City of New York, announced today the creation of a new computer program to help debtors prepare papers to vacate default judgments taken against them by creditors.

"Many litigants are not aware that they are being sued until their bank accounts are frozen or their wages are attached. The sudden freezing of their assets has a severe impact on their ability to survive," said Administrative Judge Fisher. "The courts must respond to this crisis and assist litigants, most of whom must navigate the court system without lawyers. I am pleased to announce we have developed a program to assist these litigants."

The free Civil Court computer program walks the debtor through a series of questions and produces an individualized package containing information based on the debtor's responses. This package includes instructions and an affidavit in support of an order to show cause to vacate a default judgment for failure to appear in court or answer the complaint. The program also prepares a proposed answer for the litigant if he or she has never filed an answer. The court forms are ready to file in the clerk's office and they list the debtor's reasons for not appearing or answering and the debtor's defenses and counterclaims to the action.

Over the past few years, Administrative Judge Fisher has implemented other computer programs on civil and housing topics, such as name change programs and programs to start and answer nonpayment proceedings. "We have found that most litigants have no difficulty using the programs, even if they have never used a computer," said Justice Fisher. "Through technology, the court can help people represent themselves rather than hire lawyers that they can't afford." The civil and housing programs are available on the Civil Court's website, www.nycourts.gov/nyccivilcourt and in the court's clerk's
offices and Resource Centers.

Judge Fisher's latest action follows her efforts to decrease the number of default judgments in the Civil Court by making the defendants aware that there are lawsuits against them that need to be answered. At her request, the Administrative Board of the Courts instituted a new Civil Courtrule 208.6(h), requiring an additional notice be mailed by the court to the debtor with the return address of the Civil Court on the envelope.

Court statistics show that this rule has already had a significant impact on consumer credit actions. Across the city, there has been between a 50% to 61% increase in answers filed by debtors. Between April and September 5, 2008, 1292 defendants coming to court to answer the summons and complaint informed the clerk that they had received no notice other than the one mailed by the court. During the same time frame, 8,898 notices were returned to the court as undeliverable by the post office. When the creditor requests a default judgment, this information is in the court record. "Clearly, many defendants are not receiving notice, resulting in money judgments taken on default against them. With notice, defendants can answer, come to court and dispute
the debt on the merits," said Administrative Judge Fisher.

Administrative Judge Fisher pursued both the rule change and the computer program to address the dramatic increase in consumer credit transaction cases. She estimates nearly 300,000 cases will be filed in the Civil Court by the year's end. "I think the court must be involved in the process to increase access to justice in the courts for selfrepresented litigants. Both the computer program to vacate a default judgment and the additional notice from the court will help."

The new affidavit to vacate a default judgment in a consumer credit transaction case program can be found on-line at: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/interactive.shtml.

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