Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Help Me Howard: Can't Collect Wages
If someone owes you money and won't pay up, one option is to sue them in small claims court, but what if you do and win, and they still refuse to budge? One man's in the midst of that battle right now, so he's courting Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser for help.
WSVN -- If you find something you love to do, and can get paid for doing it, you're pretty lucky.
Dustin Genovese: "It's much better than sitting in an office. Got a camera, some editing gear and just got myself out there. Gimme a shot, you know."
Dustin is a freelance videographer, and one job he loved, shooting high school football games for a South Florida production company.
Dustin Genovese: "Followed many schools around, traveled upstate for games. I was told I was one of their better shooters. I was always requested."
Dustin did his work but says, as time passed, the company started slacking on paying him.
Dustin Genovese: "The pay schedule wasn't really a schedule. It was kind of erratic."
As the money he was owed piled up, Dustin decided to bail out, but first he sent the company one last invoice.
Dustin Genovese: "So I made a full spread sheet of what I had been paid up to that point and what I hadn't been paid. It was $2,293 to be exact."
He followed that with e-mails, phone calls but no check.
Dustin Genovese: "There is no response, no response at all. I guess they just honestly think it is going to go away."
So Dustin took the final step. He filed a claim in small claims court. He showed up, the company owners did not, so the judge moved on without them.
Dustin Genovese: "I swore in, she listened to my story. I gave her all my emails I had copied and saved. She looked over it very thoroughly and awarded me a default judgment."
In September, these court papers show the judge ordered the production company to pay Dustin more than $2,700 in back pay, interest and court costs, but again they refused to pay.
Dustin Genovese: "I'm going to fight it. I don't want a penny more or a penny less. I just want what is owed to me. It's about as clear as it can get, black and white, coming from county court."
We tell people all the time, take them to small claims court, but when you do and win and still can't collect, what do you do next, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "Once you get a judgment, file it with the clerk's office in the county in which the person owns real estate. That will act as a lien and prevent its sale. As far as personal property, such as cars, take the judgment to the sheriff, he can seize the vehicle. As far as bank accounts, that requires another court order before the sheriff can seize it, or you can hire an attorney. They will take half what you are owed, but it's easier for you.
When we talked to the company's representative, she told us that the judgment that Dustin got against her was completely false, that she was hiring an attorney to get it revoked. She also told us she only owed Dustin $400. Finally, she said if we do this story, she was going to sue us.
Bottom line with judgments, Howard says, they are difficult too enforce.
Howard Finkelstein: "Small claims court was created so people could get justice without having to hire a lawyer, but in most cases, after you win, to collect from the person who owes you the money, the law is so complicated it almost requires you to hire an attorney to get what you are owed."
Dustin won't give up because he needs that money for moving expenses.
Dustin Genovese: "I'm ready to say, 'See you later, South Florida.' I met a girl last year, I'm going up to Chicago to be with her and this will help me out, but if I get it or not, I'm going up there to be with her."
Howard mentioned collecting a judgment can be difficult and sometimes requires a lawyer, but if you want to do it yourself, go to this state web page: www.sunbiz.org/jlien_how_to.html. They will walk you through each step. Then you won't have to hire one of those Howards. Dustin, though says, if a lawyer wants his case, he will hire them.
Settled for a situation that is only collecting headaches? Don't be judgmental, contact us. You won't be indebted to us, because we work for free.
The attorney for the production company filed a motion Wednesday to vacate the judgment. The hearing is set for Feb. 23. We'll let you know what happens.
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