“Robo-Testimony” in the Spotlight

Robo-testimony WitnessRecent articles in The New York Times are comparing the current state of debt collection to the mortgage crisis of several years ago, and suggesting that consumers must fight back in court. The articles in The Times quote a New York judge who is particularly disturbed by “robo-testimony” in debt collection lawsuits.

“Robo-testimony.” I like that–a phrase that describes the deceptive act of a credit card company employee testifying in court that certain standard paperwork is legitimate and accurate, even though the employee on the stand has no knowledge of the paperwork.

Let me tell you about robo-testimony, because I encounter it in debt collection trials here in Miami. When credit card companies are asked to send a witness to verify the validity of documents in court, they don’t send the records administrators that actually works with the records on a daily basis. Instead, they send a “representative” to testify. So when I ask the following questions in court, the “representative” suddenly has a problem. Questions like:

The “representatives” can’t answer these specific questions, because they don’t actually work with the records!. They are good only for “robo-testimony”–they will say that the records are valid, they will say that the amounts are accurate, they will say whatever their company tells them to say. But I know, and the frustrated judges know, that they have no true relationship with the records in question, the debt in question, the case in question, or the consumer being sued–the “representative” is merely a talking head.

The articles make other good points:

And the most compelling paragraph in the article, that should encourage any consumer being sued by a debt collector or credit card company to pick up the phone and contact a local consumer attorney immediately:

Many judges said that their hands are tied. Unless a consumer shows up to contest a lawsuit, the judges cannot question the banks or comb through the lawsuits to root out suspicious documents. Instead, they are generally required to issue a summary judgment, in essence an automatic win for the bank.

“I do suspect flaws,” said Harry Walsh, a superior court judge in Ventura, Calif. “But there is little I can do.”

photo credit: sxc.hu/squidonius

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