Q. I have been involved in a long and expensive divorce. It was finally resolved this year, but it was so traumatic that I truly never want to see the inside of the courthouse again.
I just received my attorney's bill, and I am absolutely flabbergasted over the amount. I have tried to speak to him about it, but he never returns my calls. I don't want to pay the bill since I don't feel it's fair.
Please tell me what I can do. I don't want to be sued, and have to go back to court!
A. The Orange County Bar Assn. has a Mandatory Fee Arbitration Committee that is made up of qualified attorneys who hear cases involving fee disputes between an attorney and the client.
If the amount of the disputed fee is $5,000 or less, a single arbitrator will hear the case. In all other cases, a panel of three arbitrators will determine the amount of the fee, if any, owed to the attorney.
The client or the attorney may disqualify any arbitrator from hearing the case if there is a belief that the arbitrator may not be fair.
The attorney and the client have a right to ask the court to hear the fee dispute if either one is dissatisfied with the arbitration award. However, the arbitration award becomes final if neither party makes such a request within a certain period of time.
The committee does charge for its services. For more information about this type of hearing, contact the Orange County Bar Assn. for its information packet.
Q. I recently got a judgment from small claims court. However, the defendant still refuses to pay. Is there anything I can do to get the money owed to me?
A. There are several ways that you can try to collect on your judgment. One of the most commonly used methods is to garnish the wages of your judgment debtor so that his employer withholds a portion of his paycheck in order to satisfy your judgment.
Another method is to execute on any real or personal property the judgment debtor may possess. This method would result in the property being sold in order to satisfy your judgment.
You may also place a lien on real and certain personal property of the debtor.
If you do not know what kind of property, if any, the debtor possesses, you may require him to appear at a judgment debtor examination and be questioned under oath by you. If the debtor refuses to answer, he may be ordered to do so by a judge.
All of the methods that I have listed assume that the debtor has property of some kind. If he does not, you may be out of luck. Contact the Municipal Court that heard your small claims case for more information about these methods.
B. Tam Nomoto, an Orange County Municipal Court judge, answers readers' questions about the law. Ask the Judge runs every other Saturday in Orange County Life. Have a question for Judge Nomoto? Write to: Ask the Judge, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Questions of broadest interest will be answered in her column.