Some Lawyers Want to Keep Debt Collection Out of the Courts

Associate Law Professor Mary Spector talks about debt-collection companies using courts to collect past-due bills.


Nancy Taylor, a longtime resident of San Jose with an excellent credit rating, was startled when she began receiving phone calls and letters from debt collectors in 2007.

The incessant calls and letters came from people claiming, erroneously, that she owed an outstanding balance of about $2,000 on her Sears charge card. The department store confirmed that the debt was not hers, but that made no difference.

Ms. Taylor began responding to each letter, explaining that it was a case of mistaken identity. To no avail. In 2008, she was sued for $1,936 by Erica Brachfeld, a Southern California lawyer who was representing a company that had bought a bundle of unpaid debt, including the debt falsely ascribed to Ms. Taylor. . .

Ms. Taylor’s predicament is increasingly common as debt collectors have begun using litigation as a tool to collect on aging debts. Critics say the practice clogs the courts and turns the credit card companies’ debtor lists into free-fire zones that sometimes target the innocent. . . 

But the impact of these tactics on the courts bothers some people, like Mary Spector, an associate professor Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University who is studying debt-buyer lawsuits in Dallas County. “My view, because I represent consumers in a law school clinic, is that parties should use the court for genuine disputes,” she said. “Lawyers representing debt buyers should have the evidence that support their claims. And if they don’t, they shouldn’t use the courts to do that.”

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