So we fought it. It wasn’t long before I found myself standing in front of the municipal court judge, making my first and (to this point) only appearance there. It was immediately apparent that the judge favored creditors in these cases; she was shooting down all my attempts to derail their case. But I stood tall, insisting that they still haven’t verified the debt’s legitimacy – so the judge motioned toward the representative and said, “That’s what he’s for.”
At this point, the representative got sworn in. He stated his name – for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him Gary Jones – and began answering questions from opposing counsel. This was it; with the debt being verified, there wasn’t much I could do.
But I said I was going to fight it, and I wasn’t about to stop until the final order. So I looked down at the only piece of paper I’d brought with me: the one-page complaint that included a verification of the debt and allegations– signed by “Henry Cook” and dated a month back.
I stood up like I’d been hit by a bolt of lightning, and cut in. “Your honor, this man should at least say his job title and what he does, because he is not Henry Cook, the person who signed the complaint.”
The next moment is burned into my memory for all time: “Henry Cook?” Mr. Jones blurted out. “He hasn’t worked here in years!”
Never before – except on TV – have I seen a case that seemed so certain crumble so quickly. Just like that, the evidence of the debt had become inadmissible, and the judge promptly threw out the case, leaving my client practically jumping for joy when the news came in.
Of course, that left me wondering whether other people had been victimized in the same way, so I scoured the docket for similar cases around the same time and found several other faulty verifications with Henry Cook’s name on them as well as other complaints erroneously filed. Next thing I knew, I was an attorney just months out of law school pitching a potential class-action suit to some of Philadelphia’s largest law firms (which was quite a confidence booster) – but that’s a story for another day.
Although this was just a pro bono case in small claims court, it offers a lesson – and a warning – to those who practice in every area of the law. Take nothing as a given. No case is predetermined. And even a single detail can be the difference between victory and defeat.
And no matter how grim a situation may be, as long as you “fight it,” you can hold your head high.