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      P r o t e c t i n g t h e r i g h t s o f A m e r i c A’ s L e g A L c o n s u m e r s                                                                                                                                      mArch 2011



halt Releases 2011 Small Claims Report Card
                                                   Case?; How Easy Is It to Resolve                                                   of nominal value are resolved.
The Real Peoples Courts Losing Ground              My Case?; and How Easy Is It to
                                                                                              Small Claims
                                                                                                                                      halt has long advocated dollar
                                                                                                                                      2011 RepoRt CaRd




H
                                                                                                 New York
     ALT’s 2011 Small Claims Report Card           Collect a Judgment?                                                C               limits of $20,000 or more, but
                                                                                                                                          Overall Grade:



     reveals that most small claims systems            Georgia ranked first this year,          About New York’s



                                                                                                W hat Types of
                                                                                                              ?
                                                                                                                Cases
                                                                                                Small Claims Court:
                                                                                                Ranked 12th in the nation
                                                                                                overall.
                                                                                                                                D-    only tennessee has achieved
                                                                                                  Can I Bring
are still failing to implement meaningful          earning an overall grade of B,                                                     this benchmark. although 25
                                                                                                óNew York’s small claims

                                                                                                                                 B+
                                                                                                courts allow a maximum

                                                                                                                     Start
                                                                                                claim of $5,000 ($3,000 for


                                                                                                      Easy Is It to
                                                                                                town and village justice

                                                                                                 How
                                                                                                courts). In addition to the
                                                                                                confusion caused by the


                                                                                                   My Case?
                                                                                                geographic disparity in dollar




reforms that expand consumer access to             followed by California (B-) and                                                    states have increased their ju-
                                                                                                limits, the maximum claim in all


                                                                                                                                  C+
                                                                                                parts of the state is too low to

                                                                                                                         solve
                                                                                                         sy Is It to Re
                                                                                                allow many common disputes to
                                                                                                be resolved without a lawyer.

                                                                                                  How Ea
                                                                                                ñAll of the New York small

                                                                                                     My Case?
                                                                                                claims courts surveyed by HALT
                                                                                                offer mediation so that court users




the real Peoples Courts. While several small       nine jurisdictions earned a C+                                                     risdictional limits since 2004,
                                                                                                can attempt to resolve their


                                                                                                                  It to Collect     B
                                                                                                disputes amicably before taking
                                                                                                them to a judge.


                                                                                                   How Easy Is nt?
                                                                                                òNone of the New York courts
                                                                                                surveyed by HALT hold evening or


                                                                                                      a Judgme
                                                                                                weekend sessions, making it
                                                                                                impossible for many people to use
                                                                                                                                    C
claims systems have improved since our             (Colorado, Minnesota, the Dis-                                                     most did so minimally—by
                                                                                                the courts without missing work. This


                                                                                                                 ade
                                                                                                represents a turn for the worse since


                                                                                                    Overall Gr
                                                                                                2004, when most of the courts
                                                                                                surveyed by HALT offered evening
                                                                                                sessions.
                                                                                                óNew York’s small claims filing fee
                                                                                                of $20 remains among the lowest in




last review in 2004, most states are failing       trict of Columbia, alaska, North                                                   $2,500 or less.
                                                                                                the country.
                                                                                                ñAll of the New York small claims courts surveyed by HALT provide forms online                    Compiled by
                                                                                                for starting a small claims case. Litigants must go to the courthouse, however, to
                                                                                                obtain forms that can help them collect a judgment.
                                                                                                ñNew York allows litigants to file small claims cases online through the New York State           Simple • Affordable
                                                                                                Courts E-Filing system in two of the counties surveyed by HALT (Bronx and Kings).                 Accountable • Justice for All




to meet the growing demand for these               Dakota, New Mexico, Maine,                                                             the biggest increase occurred
                                                                                                HALT, a national nonprofit organization, pursues an education and advocacy program that challenges the legal establishment
                                                                                                  to improve access and reduce costs in the civil justice system. HALT is known for its extensive collection of self-help
                                                                                                    legal materials and its advocacy to hold the legal profession accountable. For more information visit www.halt.org.




inexpensive services.                              Utah and South Dakota).                                                            in tennessee which raised its lim-
    “More than half of the states we evaluated         at the other end of the spectrum, Dela-                      it from $15,000 to $25,000 statewide and in
this year had grades that either dropped or re-    ware and Mississippi—the only two states                         Indiana which raised its limit from $3,000 to
mained the same,” said halt Deputy Director        that still do not have a true small claims court                 $10,000. the next biggest jumps occurred in
theresa Meehan Rudy. “low dollar limits, lim-      with simplified procedures—earned Fs; lou-                       Illinois, North Dakota and texas, which all dou-
ited self-help programs and rising filing fees     isiana earned a D-; and five states earned a                     bled their dollar limits from $5,000 to $10,000.
are unfortunately depriving legal consumers of     D (Michigan, arkansas, Missouri, Rhode Is-                       Massachusetts increased its limit from $2,000
an easy way to resolve everyday disputes in        land and Wyoming). thirteen states (Virginia,                    to $7,000.
court without having to hire a lawyer.”            New Jersey, West Virginia, arizona, Kentucky,                             In contrast, Kentucky ($1,500), arizona
    the Report Card grades all 50 states and       Vermont, alabama, Montana, hawaii, Kansas,                       ($2,500) and Rhode Island ($2,500) have dol-
the District of Columbia in four areas that        Nebraska, Nevada and Ohio) received a D+.                        lar limits so low that consumers are only mar-
track the chronology of filing and resolving a         the 2011 Report Card emphasizes the                          ginally better served than residents of Dela-
dispute in small claims court: What Types of       urgent need to raise jurisdictional dollar lim-                  ware and Mississippi, which do not have true
Cases Can I Bring?; How Easy Is It to Start My     its on small claims courts where conflicts                       small claims systems. Continued on page 2


halt testifies Before California task Force
O    n January 27, halt Executive Director
     Rodd Santomauro testified before the
State Bar of California’s new Governance
                                                   select Board members from a diverse range of
                                                   cultural and professional backgrounds. Santo-
                                                   mauro suggested that California could lead the
                                                                                                                                                                              the remaining best practices as each works
                                                                                                                                                                              toward the bar’s goal of public protection.
                                                                                                                                                                                  In follow up testimony to the task Force,
in the Public Interest task Force which is         nation by embracing an even higher percent-                                                                                submitted February 7, halt addressed addi-
charged with “making recommendations for           age of lay participants on the Board, and he                                                                               tional task Force questions and on March 4, a
enhancing and ensuring that public protection      also urged the task Force to make profession-                                                                              Wall Street Journal law Blog featured our Cali-
is the highest priority in the licensing,          al liability malpractice insurance a requirement                                                                           fornia work and the upcoming release of halt’s
regulation and discipline of attorneys.”           in California for practicing lawyers.                                                                                      lawyer Discipline Best Practices Report.
   appearing before a 15 member panel, San-             halt provided the task Force with a copy                                                                                  the task Force, which will meet sever-
tomauro urged the task Force to increase the       of its lawyer Discipline Best Practices Report                                                                             al more times this spring, is weighing various
number of seats allocated to non-lawyers on        and commended the state bar for having al-                                                                                 proposals to improve state bar governance.
the Board of Governors, to increase the public’s   ready adopted several of halt’s recommen-                                                                                  halt will continue to monitor and report on
input in the Board nomination process, and to      dations. Santomauro urged the bar to adopt                                                                                 their progress. HS


                                      HAlt Releases lawyer Discipline Report. See page 2

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t h e h A Lt s e n t i n e L — m A r c h 2 0 1 1                                                                                                             2



Continued from page 1                                       halt Releases lawyer Discipline Report
     this year, halt’s 2011 Small Claims Re-
port Card also looked at how easy it is to col-
lect a judgment after a litigant wins in small
claims court. the good news is that Wash-
                                                            O    n March 4, a Wall Street Journal law
                                                                 Blog posting, “Should all lawyer Scoldings
                                                            Be Public?” featured halt’s recent work with
                                                                                                                of board,” a follow up to their earlier post-
                                                                                                                ing “Iowa lawyers face discipline, but severe
                                                                                                                sanctions rare.” In an interview with the Des
ington, D.C., and 34 states place their post-               the State Bar of California’s Governance in the     Moines Register about an Iowa lawyer who
judgment forms online, including forms that                 Public Interest task Force and highlighted the      was found guilty of domestic abuse but nev-
let the debtor pay in installments or that let              upcoming release of halt’s lawyer Discipline        er sanctioned by the bar, halt Executive Di-
the winner garnish wages, place a lien on                   Best Practices report. halt’s report urges          rector Rodd Santomauro said that issues of
real property or even get a debtor’s driver’s               states to improve their lawyer discipline systems   secrecy, leniency and delay have plagued
license suspended until she pays the court’s                by adopting 10 common sense reforms such            lawyer discipline systems for years and that
judgment in full. Prevailing parties usually                as opening discipline hearings to the public,       more transparency is needed. “When you
must initiate the process of collecting a judg-             disclosing a lawyer’s complete disciplinary         don’t have a fully open disciplinary system,
ment on their own, however.                                 history and abolishing the “gag” rule, which        how is the public to know a lawyer is not in
     Programs such as small claims advisory                 prevents people from speaking publicly about        good standing,” said Santomauro.
services, where court employees (other than                 the complaints they have registered.                    halt will be releasing its lawyer Disci-
clerks) help people navigate the system, are                   On March 12, the DesMoinesRegister.              pline Best Practices Report to the press in
still not offered in most states, and in sever-             com ran “lawyer’s ex-wife slams slow pace           additional states in the coming weeks. HS
al counties that previously offered this service.
the same, but to a lesser extent, is happen-
ing with court mediation programs, which help                lEGal NEWSROunDuP
people resolve their disputes amicably before
facing a judge. While mediation is more widely              Alabama Drops lawsuit Against legalZoom             ary action is taken. the best way to find out
offered than small claims advisory programs,                a lawsuit alleging legalZoom engaged in the         whether a lawyer has been disciplined is to
several counties have had to either eliminate               unauthorized practice of law in the state of al-    visit the state court’s Website (wicourts.gov)
this program because of budget cuts, or make                abama has been dropped by the attorney who          to get to the Wisconsin attorneys’ Profes-
a “mandatory” program optional.                             filed it. alabama attorney E. allen Dodd with-      sional Discipline Compendium. the informa-
     additional information on halt’s 2011                  drew his lawsuit on January 21, 2011 af-            tion is somewhat buried, so type “compendi-
Small Claims Report Card can be found at                    ter several court rulings in legalZoom’s favor      um” in the search bar.
www.halt.org. HS                                            dimmed his chances of winning. “the decision
                                                            shows that this attorney’s attempt to block the     Ct Posts Disciplinary Records Online
                                                            right of alabama residents to use legal soft-       Connecticut became the latest state to post
    the
          haltSentinel                                      ware and self-help websites should never have
                                                            begun,” said Chas Rampenthal, General Coun-
                                                                                                                lawyer discipline histories online. In Janu-
                                                                                                                ary, it joined a growing number of states that
 theresa Meehan Rudy, Editor                                sel of legalZoom. “We are pleased with the          are choosing to run more open and transpar-
 Christopher McGee, Art Director                            decision, as alabama residents will continue to     ent discipline systems. Oregon sets the best
 HAlt BOARD OF DiReCtORS                                    have the choice to use legalZoom for an af-         example because it makes the disciplinary re-
 Conrad Martin (Chair), Fund for Constitutional
 Government; Danielle Brian, Project on Government          fordable self-help legal alternative.”              cords of Oregon lawyers—including dismissed
 Oversight; Katherine S. Broderick, Dean, UDC                                                                   grievances, pending matters and all past infor-
 David a. Clarke School of law; louis A. Clark,
 Government accountability Project; Catherine elias-        Better Discipline transparency needed in Wi         mal and formal sanctions—open to the pub-
 Jermany, National Self-help law Project; Sally             In a February 5, 2011 interview with the Wis-       lic under Oregon’s Public Records law. In Con-
 Greenberg (Co-chair), National Consumers league
                                                            consin Journal Sentinel Wisconsin State Bar         necticut, however, only resolved discipline
 The HALT Sentinel, ©2011, halt — Simple, affordable,
 accountable, Justice for all. all rights reserved.         spokesperson tom Solberg noted that bar is          matters are published. In addition to posting
 No part of this publication may be reprinted               a private association and not under any obli-       reprimands, suspensions and disbarments, the
 without the permission of halt. anyone contributing
 $30 or more per year to support halt will receive
                                                            gation to post discipline records of attorneys      site also lets consumers know if a Connecticut
 The HALT Sentinel free of charge. Contributions are        on its website, but that bar officials have re-     attorney is facing “conditions” (told they have
 tax-deductible and should be made payable to halt.         cently been discussing doing just that. “We         to do something like submit to an audit or at-
 HAlt, 1612 K Street, NW, Suite 1102,
 Washington, DC 20006
                                                            realize we need to look at it, and we are ex-       tend a class before they can resume practic-
 telephone: (202) 887-8255                                  amining the issue right now,” Solberg said.         ing) or “presentments” (which means the law-
 Fax: (202) 887-9699                                        Currently, complaints against Wisconsin at-         yer has to appear before the Superior Court to
 Website: www.halt.org
 E-mail: halt@halt.org                                      torneys are kept confidential unless disciplin-     hear what his or her discipline will be.) HS


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t h e h A Lt s e n t i n e L — m A r c h 2 0 1 1                                                                                                    3



how to avoid Foreclosure
Steps to avoid foreclosure—or at least minimize its impact                                                                               © 2010 Nolo



M     illions of Americans are losing, or
      close to losing, their homes. Foreclo-
sures in the U.S. are hitting record numbers.
                                                   homeowners facing foreclosure (and thereby
                                                   lessen the impact on the U.S. economy). In
                                                   the first plan to be implemented, FhaSecure,
                                                                                                         Selling Your Home If you simply can’t
                                                                                                     afford the house you own, the above options
                                                                                                     won’t help. You will probably lose your home.
If you’re having trouble paying your mort-         the Federal housing administration (or Fha,       But don’t wait for your lender to make the
gage, learn about the steps you can take to        at www.fha.gov) may grant Fha refinancing         first move. If your home has appreciated in
avoid foreclosure or minimize your debt after      to borrowers who can show:                        value since you bought it, you may be able to
it happens. Quick action is the key to suc-           • a history of on-time mortgage payments       sell it yourself. (In fact, real estate investors
cess—it can save your home or help pro-                  before the borrower’s teaser rates ex-      may show up on your doorstep hoping for
tect your credit rating. Your best options if            pired and the loans reset                   a bargain.) again, contact your lender, who
you’re having trouble making mortgage pay-            • interest rates that have or will reset be-   may let you stop making payments until the
ments include:                                           tween June 2005 and December 2008           house is sold.
    negotiating With Your lender as soon              • 3% cash or equity in the home                    Handing the Deed Over to the lender
as you realize you’ll have trouble paying your        • a sustained history of employment, and       If no one is interested in buying your house,
mortgage—ideally, before you’ve missed                • enough income to make the mortgage           your lender may agree to take the deed and
any payments—contact your lender. Now,                   payment.                                    cancel your debt. this is called a deed in lieu
more than ever, lenders are willing to ne-            Filing for Bankruptcy Filing for bank-         of foreclosure. the idea is that the bank can
gotiate with home loan borrowers, if only to       ruptcy may help you keep your home, or at         then sell your house (as with an actual fore-
reduce the number of foreclosures they’re          least get you out from under your mortgage.       closure) but won’t report it as a foreclosure
dealing with. (Some lenders are even taking        When you file, the foreclosure process is le-     to the credit rating agencies—in fact, you
the initiative and contacting at-risk borrow-      gally stopped (called an “automatic stay”). It    can negotiate with the bank about how it can
ers themselves.)                                   can’t be reopened until your bankruptcy case      help you preserve your credit rating.
    Getting Government Help the U.S. gov-          closes or the lender gets court permission to         to read Nolo’s full article, visit www.halt.
ernment is currently discussing ways to help       proceed (called “lifting the stay”).              org. HS


the Sentinel by e-mail                             Internet and technology Improve Small Claims access
M     any HALT members have responded that
      they want to receive The HALT Sentinel by
email instead of by regular mail! that’s great     A     promising development since halt
                                                         issued its last small claims report is
                                                                                                     forms online in either Word or PDF format.
                                                                                                     arkansas and Massachusetts only post sam-
because it saves us money and gets halt’s          greater use of the Internet and technology        ple copies of their forms.
newsletter to you more quickly. If you haven’t     by courts. E-filing—a service that allows            “Navigating court websites will not be
requested our newsletter by email yet, you can     lawyers (and pro se litigants in some juris-      easy for some pro se litigants,” halt Deputy
do that by sending your name, member number        dictions) to file documents electronically with   Director theresa Meehan Rudy said. “Many
(or mailing address) and email address to tmru-    the court—is saving people time, money and        are poorly designed and difficult to navigate.
dy@halt.org. Please write “the halt Sentinel       a trip to the courthouse. California and New      that’s not good news for people who want
by email” in the subject line. thanks! HS          York allow small claims cases to be filed on-     easy access to court information, forms and
                                                   line in some of their counties through turbo-     instructions.”
                                                   Court. Georgia has partnered with nCourt to          Just figuring out which court handles
halt’s Spring Intern                               provide e-filing services.                        small claims cases (District, Magistrate, Su-
                                                        Other states offer help with completing      perior, Conciliation, Justice of the Peace, Cir-

J   illian Morgan is a
    senior at the George
Washington University. She
                                                   court forms. Idaho residents, for example,
                                                   can use lawhelp Interactive, a website that
                                                                                                     cuit) can be problematic. Residents in Min-
                                                                                                     nesota, California, New York, Massachusetts
                                                   uses a question-and-answer format to help         and the District of Columbia, however, will
is majoring in International                       litigants complete their paperwork online.        have an easier time of it, as each state has
affairs and has played                             Completed forms, however, must be down-           designed a court website that clearly de-
Division I soccer for GWU all                      loaded and taken to the courthouse. almost        scribes its court systems and quickly links
four years. She is planning                        every state has at least one county or more       pro se users to the self-help information and
to attend law school in Fall 2012. HS              that provides fill-in-the-blank small claims      forms they need. HS

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t h e h A Lt s e n t i n e L — m A r c h 2 0 1 1                                                                                                                4


                                                                                                               Living Trusts for Everyone Want to avoid the
Dear halt,                                         Book Sale                                                   costly “probate trap?” learn why so many are
                                                                                                               turning to revocable living trusts as a way to
                                                   to purchase any of the titles listed, mail in the           ensure that their property and estate planning
I just sent you $50 and received a copy of         Publication Order Form along with a check, money            wishes are protected and top priority. $14.95
your latest book offering. Is my entire contri-    order or your credit card information to: halt, 1612        101 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes
bution to halt tax deductible?                     K Street NW, Suite 1102, Washington, DC 20006. Or,          learn from the mistakes of others so you
                    Wondering in Washington        if it’s more convenient, call us toll-free at (888) 367-    can create a solid estate plan that will
                                                   4258 and charge your order. Please allow 4-6 weeks          protect you and your loved ones. $19.95
                                                   for delivery. DC residents add 6% sales tax.
Dear Wondering:                                                                                                Know Your Rights Free when you renew
                                                   Small Claims Court Resolve small money disputes             your membership for $30 or more. Explains
No, only the contribution exceeding the fair       without having to hire a lawyer. this valuable              what your legal rights are in a variety of
market value of the book you received is con-      guide explains how to file your case in court (or           situations from writing prenuptial agreements
sidered tax deductible. For example, we re-        defend yourself if someone sues you). $12.00                to breaking apartment leases. $17.95
cently offered 101 Biggest Estate Planning         PuBliCAtiOn ORDeR FORM
Mistakes which has a fair market value of
                                                   title(s)                                                                                           Price
$14. that means all but $14 of your contri-
bution is considered tax deductible.
   halt always includes the fair market val-
ue of our book offerings on the correspon-
dence we send to you. If you can’t find it,
just give us a call at 888-FOR-halt. HS
                                                   (DC Residents: add 6% Sales tax)

                                                   S&h 1-2 books $4.95/3-4 books $7.00
halt On Facebook                                   additional Gift to halt


I n February, halt started an official Face-
  book group online where members can get
up-to-date legal reform news and also take
                                                   (Checks should be made payable to HALT)

                                                   Name: __________________________________________________________________________________
                                                                                                                                            tOtAl



part in discussions. this online resource will     address: _________________________________________________________________________________
not only allow us to share news with you,
                                                   City: ________________________________________ State: ____________ Zip: ______________________
but it will also allow you to share your news,
thoughts, and experiences with us and each         Please charge to my credit card: ❏ Visa   ❏ MasterCard     ❏ american Express
other. So login and join the conversation. It’s
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