Monday, September 8, 2014

Judgement proof

You can't squeeze blood from a turnip. It's an old idiom, which means no matter how hard you try, you cannot realize potential where none exists in the first place. The most common use revolves around money: if someone has none, your efforts to collect on a debt are fruitless.

Last week, the victim of a theft contacted me. The catalytic converter on her son's vehicle had been cut off by thieves in the high school parking lot, in broad daylight. On the same day, several other catalytic converter thefts occurred. Officers alerted the local scrap dealers, and Thursday morning two defendants attempting to sell the stolen converters, were apprehended. They were lodged in jail for felony theft, where they currently repose.

The victim wanted to know if there was any way for her to follow the progress of the case online, because she intended to file a civil suit against the thieves at the conclusion. I provided her with the URL to the County Attorney's criminal case search site, where she will be able to track the upcoming judicial steps through to the final disposition. I also dispensed some advice, telling her that there was a very remote chance she would ever see a dime from these two criminals, both of whom have served two prior prison terms for felony convictions, and have extensive criminal records. Don't get your hopes up.

Here is why it is so unlikely. People who are out cutting catalytic converters off cars on weekday mornings are unlikely to be employed, to own homes, to have savings accounts or investments. Even if you sue and win a judgement--which will cost you money--you will then face the challenge of executing the judgement, which will cost even more money.

When I was Sheriff, and responsible for writs of execution, I occasionally had to break the bad news to a plaintiff that there was simply nothing worth levying against. Bank accounts that can be seized are great. Wages that can be garnished are good, although there several exemptions and also a limit on the amount you can garnish (15% of weekly wages for a head of houshold, 25% otherwise). Personal property, however, is a decidedly mixed bag.

Let's say your defendant owns a nice four year old Ford F150. It's value in the Kelly Blue Book is $11,300. The chances are good that there is a loan against it, and sometimes the loan balance is greater than the value. Even if its not, the loan eats into the equity, and the lender gets first crack at the proceeds. To levy against it, you'll have to pay the sheriff's fees in advance, which includes the statutory fees for serving the process, the cost of the tow and storage for at least 30 days, the cost of advertising for four weeks (required by law) and the cost of the appraisal. These fees will easily add up to a few hundred dollars. You might not break even.

How about the defendant's Naugahyde livingroom set, collection of classic vinyl LPs, fancy hookah, 50-inch LCD TV, $100 acid-washed jeans, and that Coach purse she carries? You'd be surprised how little such stuff is actually worth at a sheriff's sale, Beyond that, the law provides for several exemptions from levy. These include the debtor's immediate personal possessions, his or her wearing apparel, and $1,500 worth of household effects. It also includes "tools of the trade" needed for his or her occupation up to a value of $2,400, which can include one motor vehicle. Finally, there is another $2,500 exemption for personal property of the defendant's choice.

By the time you make it through these exemptions, and pay the sheriff in advance for the cost of moving, storing, appraising, and selling whatever remains, the chances are high that you will be upside down, and victimized yet again. Someone who is completely insolvent, or who has such a small net worth that they are a turnip from which you cannot squeeze blood is known as "judgement proof." I'm afraid that this would describe the vast, vast majority of catalytic converter thieves.


Anonymous said...

You just made the best argument I have ever read to pass a law that allows the use of deadly force to protect property. The instant response from the “bleeding hearts” will be, “does that property mean so much to you that you are willing to take a Human life to keep it?”

To many low income folks a car or large screen TV required scrimping and barely getting by for months to pay for their possessions. Maybe the real question should be this, “Do I want this other persons property so bad that I am willing to die for it if they catch me in the act of stealing it?”

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

"You just made the best argument I have ever read to pass a law that allows the use of deadly force to protect property. "

Something like thisthis?

Here's a law I'd like to see enacted in Nebraska:

Auto Burglary Even reaching in through an open window of a car is a major misdemeanor down there.

Steve said...

I couldn't agree more with Gun Nut's feelings. I have been a victim of fraud where a judgement in my favor provided nothing in the way of restitution for my loss. Regardless of the law, I feel property is important enough to warrant the use of deadly force to protect it. I represents a portion of your life. After all, a person generally uses up a good portion of their life working for the money to buy their possessions. So, when someone tries to take them, they are, in effect taking part of your life.

If I caught someone in the act of trying to steal my property, I would give them the opportunity to avoid more serious consequences by stopping what they were doing and waiting for police to come and arrest them. If they continued to try and take my property, or if they tried to flee without it, they would be running the risk of a far more serious penalty than what the judicial system would levy.

The bleeding hearts would say, "Why would you shoot someone if they left your property and ran?" The answer is that allowing them to flee simply puts off the inevitable and transfers what was my problem to someone else. It goes along the same idea as capturing a nuisance animal and releasing it far from your home; illegal because it simply relocates the problem rather than dealing with it.

Cynic said...

Thanks Tom
You are right. you can't squeeze blood from a turnip. But if I was allow by law to kill someone trying to abscond with my $200 lawnmower, I would feel safer and have a wonderful sense of "closure".

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

I worked at a retail business which employed mostly unskilled labor. We had a fair proportion of people who would work for a while, a few weeks to a few months, cash their paychecks right there at their place of employment, because they had no bank account. Why not? Because any bank they had would eventually get a court order to garnish any of their account, so they never had any bank accounts.

They would quit and leave as soon as the court found out about their job and sent a garnishment letter/order for that employee to satisfy whatever court-ordered obligation was outstanding. Thy'd go on to the next job, wash, rinse, repeat.

Anonymous said...

Typical of our society to let the dead beat losers in life suck the resources from the people who follow the rules and try hard to get ahead. I'm tired of all the bleeding hearts and victims nowadays who are essentially lazy parasites.