Our collections department is an integral part of our litigation
branch. It is not a “poor relation housed in the attic.” The
whole firm is active in it.
Although by no means is our practice limited to
collections. We believe a blend of practice maintains our active
community contacts and cross-pollenizes our legal skills.
The firm was recently recognized by
the Law League of America for a half century of membership, a
standard which we envision will be held for generations to come.
All our debtor contact is done
either by attorneys or by fully qualified legal personnel
carefully trained to pick up signs of collectibility of what may
become a legal case. We consider this a legal service and
undertake it carefully and professionally. Others may harass the
debtor - our aim is to collect.
All of our personnel are fully
versed with all aspects of the Fair Debt Collection Practices
Act as well as the Fair Credit Reporting Act which we always
strive to be in full compliance. All personnel are regularly
updated at office meetings as well as in-house seminars as to
any new procedures in addition to reviewing the old.
All debtors are treated firmly but
with the utmost courtesy. Collectors are instructed not to
engage in arguments or debates with the debtor, but rather to
refer all conflicts and confrontations to one of the attorneys.
Generally, Collectors make initial contact with the debtor via
mail. Within ten days, the Collector will follow-up on the
demand letter with a telephone call. Perhaps the most important
aspect of the job of Collector is to locate the debtor. Our
Collectors are thoroughly skilled at utilizing our various
resources in tracking down a person, all within ethical
guidelines. Our Collectors have learned through training and
experience how to size up an account and predict its
is based upon their direct and indirect communication with the
debtor, the evasiveness, their standing in the community not to
mention our past experience of collecting other bills from the
We have served
for nearly a century. We believe we know our multi-county
diverse area as well as anyone. It ranges from economically
devastated farm areas to hard coal towns to the burgeoning
Pocono region. This may be a tall order for a commercial
practice but is handled from our office in Scranton.
District Justice Court
For claims involving $8000 or less
the simplest way to get a judgment is to sue in the District
Justice Court .
This court was formally known as the
District Magistrate Court , Small Claims Court as well as the
Justice of the Peace.
The advantages are many. The cost is
generally around $750.00 - $1,500.00.
Service can be made by certified mail however Constable service
is required, at an additional cost, if Defendant cannot be
served by mail. A hearing can occur within 30 days and
(sometimes as soon as 2 weeks) and if the Defendant ignores the
process, (which is often) a judgment will be entered without the
need for a witness to come to testify. The hearings are not
transcribed in any manner and any appeal from it would be “de
novo” without preference given to lower court rulings. Even if
you have an adverse ruling an appeal can be filed for
approximately $100.00. As a result many creditors chose to
simply file the appeal rather than incur the costs of sending a
witness. It is by far the quickest and simplest way to get a
There are however, some
disadvantages. As a rule there is no pretrial discovery. The
judgment limit is $8000.00 and a District Justice is not
required to be a lawyer, although many are. Consequently in some
District Justice Courts rules of evidence and procedure may be
somewhat lax. Continuances are relatively easy to get if
Appeals from District Justice Court
usually go before an Arbitration Panel. Depending on the County
in which the claim arises. Arbitration Panels will also hear
smaller case directly filed with the Court of Common Pleas.
These cases generally range between $8,000.00 and $50,000.00.
Pleadings are far more formal and the pleading phase of a case
can get bogged down on technicalities. Arbitration panels
usually consist of 3 attorneys hearing a case on its merits
deciding the outcome by consensus. The chairman of the attorney
panel is generally the attorney with the most seniority and the
rules of evidence and procedures while often not strictly
enforced are supposed to be observed.
The disadvantages to Arbitration are
many. First of all significant delays in getting to trial
can occur. The discovery process alone can delay certain cases
well in excess of a year of more. A trial date is only set with
the concurrence of counsel or by court order. Once a trial date
is set, continuances are common and easy to obtain depending on
the court and the timeliness of the request.
Often the identity of arbitrating is
not known until the time of trial and their decisions
are hard to predict. As arbitrator compensation
is relatively low may arbitrators often lack the legal knowledge
and experience of the high priced seasoned veterans of the law.
As a result many times an Arbitrators decision will be a
“compromise” – preferring to give some benefit of the
doubt to both sides of a dispute.
Perhaps most frustrating is the fact
that arbitrators do not render an opinion. They merely enter a
decision leaving the litigants guessing as to why the case was
decided. As with District Justice cases, arbitrations are
generally not transcribed and appeals from them are “de
novo”. It is not uncommon for arbitration cases to be settled
on the eve of trial or even in the courthouse hallway awaiting
the case to be called. For these reasons witnesses should be
readily available to contact as should someone with complete
authority to settle.
Unlike a District Justice hearing
even it a Defendant does not show up, the Plaintiff still has
the burden of proving their case (a formality sometimes ignored)
thus a witness is still required unless the Plaintiff officially
consents to the entry of a Judgment. Usually the arbitration
takes about an hour. Rarely do they last more than 3 hours.
However, it is not uncommon to have to wait longer than 1 hour
for the case to be called.
Court of Common Pleas
Appeals from arbitration and larger
civil case are heard by the Court of Common Pleas. Each county
has their own rules on the jurisdiction limits of Common Pleas
Court but most county’s rules provide that cases larger than
$30,000.00 - $50,000.00 are heard by a Common Pleas Judge.
Common Pleas Judges are required to
be licensed attorneys and are elected officials. Once elected
into office they are not subject to “re election” in any
contested elections but rather run for “retention”.
The Pleading Phase and Discovery
Phase is the same as in Arbitrations.
If the case is an appeal from an
arbitration these phases are not repeated although
additional discovery and further pretrial motions are possible.
Rules of Procedure and Evidence are
strictly enforced, depending on the Judge and many counties have
their own pretrial procedures.
Summary, Judgment motions are rarely
granted and usually results in longer delays rather than
expedited decisions. Video or telephonic testimony is generally
not allowed nor is the use of sworn affidavits unless by consent
of the parties.