Sunday, October 4, 2009

All Claims, No Conciliation -OR- Debtors' Prison, American-Style

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park as seen in an image I got off the internet. I've never actually been to Yosemite but I saw an interesting show on PBS (MPT) about its history, and how the legendary John Muir battled unsuccessfully in the early 1900s to stop construction of the dam that resulted in a reservoir that today fills Hetch Hetchy Valley inside the park and provides water to San Francisco.


So here is my promised entry on my debt and American-style debtors' prison situation. I am inserting random images -- including pictures I took with my crummy cellphone camera and various ones I found online that may or may not (mostly do not) have anything to do with the entry.

Several other points first, though ...

* I actually have quite a bit of work for my consulting job this month into next month with a dollar amount of $4,135 by the end of November if it all comes to pass, and this doesn't including about $400 in tutoring. This will be bring my annual income to nearly $15,000 -- which is going to be a problem on taxes next year since so far virtually all of this was earned as a 1099 contractor. More immediately, though, this money will not be arriving all at once.

The street sign for the intersection of Upshur Street and 16th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 4:18PM, Oct. 1, 2009. I was walking back from Longfellow Street.


Indeed, I still haven't paid my October rent. I am PLANNING to do that by the end of the week before it is late (the 11th of the month, which because of the calendar this month works out to the 12th). Additionally, at present I am down to just $200 that has to last me at least one week and then add to that only another $230 that has to last me to around Oct. 23th, or $430 for the next nearly three weeks.

* Secondly, I have an important job interview tomorrow. Yesterday, Chris T. took me shopping at Macy's at Metro Center and spent $212 on me buying me good clothes for my interview. I think he and Phil had agreed to split this cost. The fact I went to Macy's is a little bit ironic given my story below.

The back alley of the 1500 block of Upshur Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 4:14PM, Oct. 1, 2009


*Thirdly, I have decided for the time being not to move into the room in the house along Longfellow Street here in D.C. but try to hold onto my apartment.

* Lastly, the weather is sunny and fall like pleasant today. Although I happen to like showery weather, it is actually quite nice.


So last Wednesday morning I went to the "Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia" as part of a small claims lawsuit against me by Arrow Financial Services and filed the firm Mann Bracken for $1618 (less a $45 payment I made). I may arrangements for $45/month payment until the bill is paid off -- or rather, until I can do a chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy, whichever comes first.

Looking along the 1700 block of S Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 7:41AM, Sept. 28, 2009 (yes, I was up at that early hour last Monday).


Wednesdays are "corporations-sue-individuals" at small claims court day for civil claims under $5,000, and there is a sort of flea market quality to the proceedings in the "informal mediation" process that is the first step ahead of formal mediation, which in turn precedes an actual trial. It also includes landlord - tenant rent disputes, but thankfully (so far) I do not have that issue.

There was a crush of people assembled into the courtroom as Judge Frederick J. Sullivan came before that sea of social wreckage, failure, infirmity, calamity, and whatnot and started the proceedings. Specifically, he instructed everyone on what would happen and admonished the sea of defendants only to agree to thing that "are in your interest."

I would later realize why he said that.

D.C. small claims court, 8:55AM, Sept. 30, 2009


The judge left the courtroom and there began the nearly 90 minute long reading of cases from the docket where the defendant must say "Present" or "Here" when your case number and name are read. If it is an initial hearing (as mine was), then you go into a side room -- waiting among a crowd of 15 people that swelled to nearly 40 -- to speak to the plaintiff representative.

The actual plaintiff lawyer in my case (along with at least a dozen others) was a short, pudgy, but fast-moving woman, who never actually spoke to me, but who signed the agreement I reached.

That is, in the end, I hurriedly settled for $45/month, and basically gave away all my rights and information -- as you are pressured into doing in what is basically a huge power imbalanced relationship, although if you really want to fight it, you can always do that (even if in the end the result is likely to be the same, namely a judgment against you). I gave them the name of the consulting company for which I do part time project-based work and of my bank.

OPTICAL ILLUSION! Squares A and B are really the SAME COLOR! (See below)


Thus, if this were poker, I folded immediately. This gets back to Judge Sullivan's admonition about doing what's in your interest.

Proof that the two squares are really the same color! This is called the "same color illusion" and it is featured in today's Astronomy Picture of the Day.


The reason I settled is that the $45/month is a reasonable amount and it made the whole thing just go away, even though it now gets added to the $85/month other informal settlement I have with a law firm / collection agency called Margolis, Pritzker, et al., that I made last April.

I have been keeping up payments on that one, although this month I am going to miss the deadline of the 10th, but they agreed to let me make it by the 23rd since I have a six month good record with them so far). That was for a $4,700 bill that is now down to about $4,200. That one never went to court at all. I'm not sure if any missed payments results in summary judgment or a trail.

These settlements thus total $130/month and there are two more on the way.

The University of Maryland, College Park campus, 2:02PM, Sept. 29, 2009


The next (third potential) suit is also from Arrow Financial Services but the law firm is Weinstock, Friedman & Friedman. That debt is for $2,835 (as listed in the court papers) although as recently as May (long after it had left the credit card company from which it originated), it was just $2,200, so another $600 got tacked on out of thin air. Again, this gets to the essence of the predatory, zero-sum, destructive nature of early 21st Century American corporate capitalism.

The house at 1504 Delafield Place, NW, at the corner of Piney Branch Rd., NW, Washington, D.C., 3:59PM, Oct. 1, 2009.


The fourth one is actually Citibank -- which coincidentally holds about a quarter of my massive student loan debt -- as the bank for Macy's. I defaulted on about $2,200 in Macy's debt, although now it is up to nearly $3,000 on interest and fees, which are the corporate capitalist equivalent of Ebola virus, which basically describes America's economic and financial system nowadays anyway.

I am anticipating that the Macy's/Citibank suit will be filed probably in the December- February time frame. The calls from Citibank are incessant -- at least six times a day. My ringer is always off.

The next set of pictures are from the Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and show a newborn pygmy hippo that was born on Sept. 30, 2009. Here the baby hippo eats one of its first meals with mom very close by. The story link is here.


Enough Already ...

Then there is a fifth (and final) potential case from a collection agency for about $2,050. This one is held by an operation called Brachfeld & Associates that is based in Torrance, California, and that does not seem to have easy reach into the D.C. area, so I am not sure if they will actually sue me at some point.

In all these five total $1600 (Mann Bracken) + $4200 (Margolis, et al) + $2835 (Friedman and Weinstock) + $3,000 (Macy's / Citibank) + $2,050 (Brachfeld & Associates) = $13,685, although it is hard to get an exact dollar figure since fees, interest, and "court costs" are forever being added on.

Baby pygmy hippo is taken care of by the zoo staff.


Again, I settled on Wednesday since I had already decided I could pay Mann Bracken $45 per month. It IS also true that I am trying to avoid any judgments against me for as long as I can. A judgment in and of itself means nothing, though, unlessthe creditor is able to obtain a writ of attachment for wages or bank accounts. The law allows them to take of 25 percent of "disposable wages" OR the EXCESS of thirty times the Federal hourly minimum wage for that week, whichever is higher. Given a current Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr, this works out to $217.50 per week or about $870 a month. I think they can take a full amount in a bank account. Of course, this tends to happen more when the debtor simply does not even show up in court.

My situation would potentially be more difficult for the creditor since they would have to switch the jurisdiction to Maryland -- where the consulting company for which I work is based -- and I am a 1099 independent consultant / contractor. Of course, this could also mean that the ENTIRE amount of a given check was seized.

More adorable newborn pygmy hippo pictures.


As regards the third case, whose initial hearing is set for Oct. 21st, I think I am going to request it go to formal mediation rather than just doing the hurried informal mediation. I need to buy more time and I also need to figure out what a court-appointed mediator thinks of my situation. The trouble is I don't think I can arrange another $50 to $70 a month settlement as I am simply not earning enough money to do it.

This gets back to Judge Sullivan's admonition.

For what it is worth, I am really trying to avoid having judgments taken out against, me, though I might not be able to do so -- again, until I can declare bankruptcy. I cannot declare a chapter 7 bankruptcy until Aug. 1, 2010 and I cannot declare a chapter 13 until I am earning a sufficient monthly income, which I am not.

Awwww ...


Finally, there is my MASSIVE $127,000 in student loan debt, including $34,000 with Ciitbank for my public policy graduate school and a $93,000 consolidated Direct Loan on all my previous undergraduate and graduate programs that resulted in me having three masters degrees, along with (so far) total life failure.

Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d'Arc) equestrian statue (long since having lost her sword and oxidized to a bright green) at the edge of Meridian Hill Park, Washington, D.C., 4:35PM, Oct. 1, 2009. I can actually see this from my apt. window if I take the screen out and crane over to the right.

Is it better to be burned at the stake alive in a few minutes than suffer the endless agony of America's economy and financial and legal system? Naaaah ...


That's all for now. My next planned entry will be sometime between Monday and Wednesday. My entries next week are going to be shorter because, as mentioned, I have a lot of stuff to do.



Chester said...

Hey Regulus,

Things are (mostly) going well. Brian is 2 1/2 and is expecting a baby sister in February. Goldie, the massive goldfish, is still around. He's in a garden pond out back and looks happier there than in a tank. Sorry to hear (read) about the vicious death, I mean debt squads that are on the attack. Good luck on you job interview...I guess that is where you are right now. Just remember: ain't NO pawty wit no ripple.

krzysztof said...

So... I've read this entry carefully and I think that you did the right thing by settling this one providded you know that you can pay both instalments. I also agree that the next time around you should go with the formal mediation and a motion followed by another motion etc. As someone who has lived under real socialism - and without implying that the US is socialist because it is not - still I have vast experience dealing with beaurocracy. The trick is to keep things moving all the time. Basically every time you dispute a decision even frivolously, you ingest a new factor into the beaurocratic machinery and that forces the system to reset itself and it takes time for it to recalculate its coordinates. I current;y owe back taxes which are overdue. The IRS sent me one of their "final notices". Not that they can do much at this point but I want to have a clean record with them. The advice that I got from an actual IRS representative was: pay us something, no matter how small amount. That will reset the whole thing causing the process to loop back and start all over again - which takes time. I had a friend in Poland who was disputing a minor ticket ad infinitum. Every time they sent him a bill he would write back disputing something, anything, the correctness of the case number, bad grammar in the notice, anything. He never actually paid the ticket. Screwing with the system is something that one learns to enjoy.

Regulus said...

Hi Chester,

Congratulations on the second baby! You've got quite a family there now!

So at this rate Goldie is going to be the size of a large blue fish in a few years. Was the actual move for him from tank to pond traumatic?

The job interview is over as as far I can tell, the outcome was indeterminate.

I was interviewed by the CFO because the company VP who was supposed to interview me was busy after having been sick last week.

I don't know if that will help or hurt in the possibility of getting a second interview.

It was good that I brought writing samples since they will now be given to the other people who will decide if I should get a second interview. I honestly don't have a good assessment of how it went. I will know within a week to 10 days if there is going to be a second interview.

I left the sticky size label on my new slacks affixed to the backside -- lower right butt check, but the jacket covered it up. I was dressed for success.

Regulus said...

Hi Kristof -- You posted this comment as I was replying to Chester's comment. (You have never met Chester but I told you about him.)

While I totally agree with your comments about delaying the machinery of the bureaucracy, I have to ask you: HOW CAN YOU STILL OWE THE IRS ANYTHING??

How does that keep happening?? That's the last thing you need while you are trying to get your immigration. How much money are we talking about?

I'm likely going to have my own IRS issues next year as a result of having earned nearly all my money as an "independent contractor."

DJG said...

I'd say good luck with your job interview, but apparently it's already happened. How did it go?

krzysztof said...

between 2,500 and 3,000 at this point. This time the taxes were done by a professional - still the same result.
WHAT-FUCKING-EVER. I guess SAIC didn't deduct enough monthly or whatever. I just checked my poskets and counted the change.. well no, I don't have that much right now on me (Roz: Do you have any caviar ON YOU right now? ha ha ha). Today I paid over 800 pounds for Pawel's flat. It included security deposit and agency fees. And by the end of October I have to come up with 1000 pounds in his tuition plus there's another green card legal invoice for $1200. Needless to say I don't have even a fraction of the total amount and therefore I'm already running a huge credit card debt in yet another country - this time it's the EU, my home turf as it were. New Zealand (with you, hopefully) may very well be the next stop and then maybe the Himalayas (that's why I'm quitting smoking... you know, one needs oxygen at the altitudes where those freaking judges, credit companies, lawyers, ex wives and all this bloodsucking vermin-like annoying shit can't get you because they are all simply too fat to climb that high:-))

On that optimistic note I'm going to open another beer and finish the backtracks for the song that I've been trying to record for the past 3 months. Just one more thing: sooner or later you and I will find the promised land where we can finaly have nothing but sophisticated conversations and no worries to distract us.

So there you have it. I said my piece

Regulus said...

Hi ZJ/M,

See my reply above to Chester.

Bottom line: indeterminate outcome with the possibility (but not necessarily the probability) of a second interview, although my writing samples should help.

krzysztof said...

What are you talking about? I know Chester. Hi Chester. We met at screen on the green years before you two drifted apart - temporarily

Regulus said...

Kristof -- You just aren't in a position to be paying that much money for Pawel's schooling at this time. I don't know what else to say. You simply don't have enough to do this. I wish I could send you money but, obviously, I'm having troubles too. (Do you think you could borrow any from the Bank of Phil? His rates are very reasonable.)

On a personal note, I'm so happy I'm back online on my blog ... I just spent 2+ hours "diagnosing" a problem whereby I could not access Blogger or ANY .blogspot address. It turned out to be a DNS issue at RCN. I called them twice -- the first time the lady was no help, but the second time the lady technician in the Philippines spent 55 minutes on the phone with me and we figured out the problem.

Oh, yes, wherever that promised land is, I'm not sure it's going to be Larry's Lounge.

krzysztof said...

Oh, yes, wherever that promised land is, I'm not sure it's going to be Larry's Lounge.

I'm afraid you're right

krzysztof said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Regulus said...

Hey, hey -- Only I get to remove comments. (I know -- you hit the trigger twice.)

Actually, I still hold out hope for a rainy, cool, nice middle of the week night Larry's Lounge night with nice jazz music playing, no stank-ass smells, and a cute and attentive bartender.

I guess that really is reaching for the Moon, as they say.