Navigating civil judicial systems

For want of a fee a job was lost

In a recent post I detailed a situation where Jerry lost a job he was in the process of getting.  In fishing terms he’d wrestled the big one for quite a while, using all his tools, knowledge and even getting a hand in holding steady and keeping the fight, then the line broke and it got away.

Let’s evaluate the reasons the line broke.

  1. Jerry made a wrong choice 13 years ago and wrote a bad check to a towing company.
  2. He compounded that mistake by relying on someone else to help him rectify the mistake.
  3. He did not follow through to ensure the issue had achieved final resolution.

Oh well, then Jerry is at fault and got what he deserved. Really? Perhaps.  Let’s look a little deeper.

  1. Jerry made contact and followed through with the system and attempted to fulfill his obligation.
  2. When he wasn’t in a position to complete the necessary transaction, he asked for assistance and provided his portion.
  3. He trusted that when someone said it was done, it had been done.

Hmmm. That mitigates the circumstances a bit, one would think.

Thirteen years later and however many background checks from various prospective landlords, employers, and creditors an active warrant from a state he no longer resides in suddenly pops up on one potential employer’s radar.  The first that we know of.  He only found that out because he was actively pursuing the job, following up with the recruiter via email and phone, and following up on her instructions to contact the investigator.  He called the investigator and was told specifically that this active warrant for passing a bad check 13 years ago was the reason he was not going to get the job. He never received anything in writing documenting he wasn’t going to get the job or why.

Is it really possible that in that length of time none of the other checks that have been done returned this information?  Or, more likely, is it possible that there were investigations that revealed this information and the powers that be either decided it was the end of the road for his journey with them, or that the matter was inconsequential to their concerns and treated it as a non-issue? We will probably never know.

Here’s the real kicker.

We contacted the county where this warrant was active.  We didn’t have the case number or the actual amount that was owed.  One office passed us to the next and gave us new numbers to call. When we did get someone to “help” the attitude was less than helpful and it was like pulling teeth to get them to listen to us. During the conversation, she would interrupt and repeat information she’d already provided, as though we were the ones not listening.  Throughout the entire call she acted as though we were unreasonably acting as if we were entilted to something it was not her job to give.  She conveyed it through language choice, tone of voice, and verbal attitude.  At one point, I specifically stated that I was frustrated because she was interrupting and not listening because she had the information that she had. Finally, we obtained the case number and a fax number and were told to write a letter to the judge. When asked to provide her name for documentation purposes, she refused, repeatedly.

The letter explained that Jerry had mistakenly thought the matter resolved, accepted responsibility for the debt, was willing to pay but unable to do so due to current lack of income and proposed an actual solution to the matter that could resolve it, complete with contact information for cooperation between their judicial system and ours.

The next day a clerk called and said that the judge had instructed her to communicate that the warrant would remain active until the matter was resolved. End of communication. The remainder of the phone call was us trying to get the clerk to provide us with contact information for someone on their end we could try to work with toward resolution.  Again, it was like pulling teeth. Eventually we were told to contact the Prosecutor’s office and given that information.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

The woman in the Procecutor’s office obviously attended the same course in Customer Dissatisfaction and Disservice. At one point she basically stated that as the defendants we had no right to offer a solution that would accommodate our circumstances. My efforts to be civil, solution oriented, and respectful were not getting through to her and Jerry took the phone from my hand and angrily berated her. After complete silence, during which I was finally able to convey what we were attempting to accomplish and what we needed to do so, she provided us with a name and fax number to send another letter to.

A new letter was composed and added to the original letter and faxed off.


Jerry got an email from a mediator that basically stated that someone had reviewed the case and discovered that the check itself had gotten paid and that the only thing outstanding was a $45 court fee.  Once they received a money order for that amount the matter would be resolved and the warrant removed.

So, after 13 years, an unpaid court fee of $45 prevented Jerry from obtaining a job and now we (I) are trying not to panic over the fact that there is zero income, bills are due, and there’s no money to pay them.  The good news is there’s enough money to get a money order, stamp, envelope, and get this thing resolved once and for all.  Even better is the fact that Jerry has a spring in his step and a gleam of hope in his eye filled with certainty that having this resolved will mean he is able to get a job right away.  From his mouth to God’s ears.