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ASK THE JUDGE

It's One Thing to Get a Judgment; It's Another Trying to Collect on It

May 26, 1990|B. TAM NOMOTO | B. Tam Nomoto, an Orange County Municipal Court judge

Q. As plaintiff in a small-claims case about three years ago, the court ruled in my favor and ordered the defendant to pay me an amount slightly under $1,200. I asked the defendant for payment.

After several additional unsuccessful attempts to collect the money, the defendant flatly refused to pay and threatened my physical well-being if I pursued the matter further.

Through some investigation of my own, I have found that the defendant was involved in several other claims such as mine and that he has done a thorough job of concealing any and all of his worldly assets through the use of fictitious business names and the help of family members.

What can I do? The money means a lot to me, but so does my health!

J.H.,

Laguna Hills

A. I cannot give you any legal advice in regards to this. Deputy Dist. Atty. Donna Crandall, however, suggests that you may wish to consult the Sheriff's Department for a possible fraud investigation. She believes that her office would not be able to assist you until such an investigation is done and a recommendation to prosecute is made.

Q. My daughter is dating a young man that I don't particularly like. By that, I'm not referring to a father's ordinary distrust of someone his daughter is seeing, but a feeling that there is something not quite right about him. From something he has said, I have a strong suspicion that he has been in trouble with the law, and has even been in jail.

There has been recent publicity about people being able to get information from the Department of Motor Vehicles about perfect strangers. I would like to know if there is any law that would prevent me from getting some kind of information about a person's criminal past. I know that there are such things called "rap sheets." Is it possible for me to get one of those?

ES,

Huntington Beach

A. The state does keep a record of a person's criminal history, which is commonly called a "rap sheet." The rap sheet will show whether a person has ever been arrested and the outcome.

These rap sheets are highly confidential and are available to a relatively select group of people. Most of this group is made up of law enforcement personnel who must have access to rap sheets to perform their employment duties. An example would be the court, which would need a defendant's record for sentencing purposes.

The law also allows defense attorneys to obtain their clients' rap sheets when defending them in criminal cases.

There are some people other than law enforcement personnel who are authorized access to the records as well. Ordinarily, they are governmental agencies who need the records when filling employment positions. Public utilities may also acquire the records when hiring employees who must enter private residences as part of their employment.

A person who obtains someone's rap sheet in violation of the law can face criminal penalties.

Q. My mother left me her home when she died. I should have sold the home, but, thinking it was a good investment, I rented it out. I have had nothing but trouble with my tenant. He is never on time with the rent, and, when he pays, he acts like I should be grateful to him.

My tenant has now decided to sue me. He claims that he cut himself on a "defective window" that I should have fixed.

Someone told me that he probably won't go through with this lawsuit. I heard that there is a time limit that cases must be heard in the courts or they are dismissed. Is this true?

TY,

Tustin

A. It is unclear from your letter exactly what your tenant has done in his "lawsuit" against you. If he has filed a complaint naming you as a defendant, the court may, at its discretion, dismiss the case if you are not served with the complaint within two years of its filing date.

If you have already been served with the complaint, the court may dismiss the case, at its own discretion, if it is not brought to trial within three years. The court must, however, dismiss the action if it is not brought to trial within five years.

As with everything with the law, there are exceptions to these rules. You should consult an attorney to make sure that you are protected. Your attorney should be able to give you legal advice as to how you should handle your case.

Q. I am a defendant in a personal-injury case (I am accused of causing an automobile accident). I have been told by my insurance company's lawyer that I have to appear at a deposition. I have never heard of such a thing and would like to know what it is.

IK,

Santa Ana

A. It appears from your letter that you are being asked to attend an oral deposition. An oral deposition is normally held at an attorney's office. You will be sworn to tell the truth, as if you were in court, and you will be asked questions that relate to the case in which you are involved. There will be a record of your answers.

The answers that you give at a deposition may be used at the trial under certain circumstances. As a result, the law provides you with an opportunity to review your answers once a transcript of the deposition has been made.

If you fail to attend the deposition, the law allows the party who wanted to question you to go to court and obtain an order requiring you to do so. You may also be fined by the court.

Ask the Judge runs every other Saturday in Orange County Life.

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