Q. I just recently went through a small claims action. I won my case, so I'm not writing from sour grapes, but I would like to know why the judge wouldn't rule on the case instantly, as on television's "People's Court." Most of us were told that we'd get an answer in the mail. Is there a reason for this?
A. A judge who does not rule immediately on the outcome of a case is taking the case "under submission." There are some very good reasons why judges do this in small claims cases.
As you know, small claims contestants are not allowed to be represented by attorneys and are often uneducated on the law and proper legal procedures. The issues presented in small claim cases can often be complicated. Frequently, judges will take cases under submission so that they can further research the law, since the parties have not done so.
Another reason for taking cases under submission in small claims is that parties are often very emotional and hostile towards each other. The vast majority of small claims cases are filed as a last recourse because other informal methods of communication have failed between the parties. I have had fistfights erupt both outside and inside the courtroom during or following a hearing. For this reason, judges are reluctant to issue a judgment when an atmosphere of hostility exists between the parties out of concern that an adverse ruling will cause contemptuous behavior toward either the judge or the winning party by the party who has lost.
Q. Recently, I made a payment on a real estate loan. The payment was due on the first of the month, and was delinquent on the 10th. I sent the payment, and it was postmarked on the 7th.
The savings and loan received it on the 11th. They said it was late and wanted me to pay a late fee.
It was my understanding that, since the savings and loan accepted payments sent by mail, there was an implied possession of my payment, proof by the postmark, and thus the payment was on time.
Was the payment on time?
A. Unfortunately, the bank can dictate the terms by which it receives payment. It could, like the Internal Revenue Service with your tax return, provide that payment will be considered timely if deposited in the U.S. mails by a certain date. The majority of lending institutions, however, favor the date of payment being the date payment is received by them. Their justification is that this is the reason for the grace period between the actual date the payment is due and the delinquent date.
If it makes you feel any better, I have also done the same thing--and paid the penalty.
Q. About 2 years ago, I was cited by the California Highway Patrol for going over 55 m.p.h. on the freeway. I was given the option (I had a clean record) to attend traffic school for $45, and have not had another violation since then.
Is this option still available? Have the fines gone up in the last 2 years?
F. A., Irvine
A. Traffic school is still available to qualified persons. The requirements are that you must not have attended within the last 2 years and that you must not have had more than one moving violation in the last year. If your ticket is for speeding, you cannot have exceeded the speed limit by more than 20 m.p.h. All of these requirements can be waived by a traffic commissioner or judge.
The fee for traffic school remains at $45. Fines, however--like everything else--have increased. Much of this is due to a type of a tax called a "penalty assessment" which is added to the fine. As of October, 1987, the amount of the penalty assessment was about 90% of the fine. Currently, the assessment has been increased to about 145% of the fine.