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small claims

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i was served with papers for legal monies owed to a lawyer...the total in the claim was greater than total costs (he was charging me for a bill that came to him 1 year old and then small claims costs plus the past due costs) I paid the past due costs prior to me getting served. I went on the due date to court and the sheriff deputy told me that the plaintiff was not attending and the case dismissed. Now the lawyer is trying to collect the 1 year old bill and court costs. I came to court like I was suppose to...he did not show up...My understanding is that if dismissed .... it is over with and he defaulted. Correct -- please advise



Well, typically, cases that are dismissed for failure of one party to be present are dismissed without prejudice -- meaning that the case could be reopened later provided the statute of limitations has not run. It sounds like he is trying to re-open the case now; I can't imagine what court costs he has if he dropped the ball on his earlier suit. I'm not sure what will happen next; some courts look unfavorably at lawyers who try to collect more than the legal fees they are owed; others may be less sympathetic to debtors who don't pay bills timely.

I would base your next step on how much money is at stake and how much headache you are willing to go through on this matter. At the very least you should pay the one year old bill if that is for money owed to the attorney for past work performed. As for the court costs owed: If you are really displeased with what the attorney is asking for you might consider filing a complaint with the State Bar; such an action may also result in the attorney's deciding to stop pursuing his claim against you.

[This message has been edited by juanitag (edited November 24, 1999).]

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