For How Long Is A Judgment Collectible?
A judgment has a measurable lifetime, and when that lifetime has expired, a judgment is no longer enforceable. The length of the lifetime depends on what jurisdiction you are in and in what court within jurisdiction issued your judgment. Here, we are discussing large judgments of a million dollars or more, which is going to be the district court in most states. In New York, it’s going to be called the Supreme Court, a court of general jurisdiction. In Colorado, a judgment has a basic lifetime of 20 years, but as you get near the end of that time, you can revive the judgment for an additional 20 years. That gives you a total of 40 years to collect your judgment.
Sometimes you have to apply the adage “no wine before it’s time,” especially when you are after fraudsters that you have chased into and out of bankruptcy. Sometimes the best course of action is to just sit back for a couple of years, making it clear that you do intend to collect your judgment and convert it to the money that you are due. This is because the debtor usually needs more time to “get on their feet,” which oftentimes is just a euphemism for putting together one or more additional deals to rip off other people. So, a judgment is good for a substantial period of time.
Can You Increase The Amount I Am Due In A Judgment?
We can sometimes increase the amount due in a judgment. Let me give you an example of a setting in which we can do this. When there is a fraudulent conveyance, I take the judgment and file a separate and new suit involving the fraudulent conveyance of specific assets. So, I say I am a creditor because of this judgment, and I can be a future creditor if matters involve a fraudulent conveyance before you have your judgment, and if you’ve managed to convince me to get into your case that early. I file a suit saying that you wrongfully conveyed or manipulated a piece of property. You had a house that was free and clear that you shuffled around like a poker chip, and it involved other people.
I might have that judgment against you, but it involved other persons we here call B, C, D and the property. So I file a suit to set aside the conveyance so the property will be yours. I can also get a judgment against B, C and D up to the amount of that property, in general terms. This broadens the pool of people and assets that we can go after. We may decide we don’t really want that property or that it’s going to be a lot easier to just go and get something else from B, C or D.
There is another option that is very interesting and exerts its own form of pressure. Oftentimes I may bring that fraudulent conveyance action in order to put in an additional claim for relief involving other laws, such as racketeering. The Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act is a federal statute that has mirrors in every state. Each state has its own form of that statute. In the ‘60s, the American Bar Association put out a two volume treatise dealing with RICO or the racketeering statute and referred to it in the subtitle as “The Ultimate Weapon In Civil Litigation.” If I am able to assert and prove a racketeering claim, there are a couple of interesting things that can happen that most debtors don’t like. The first is that they are labelled racketeers. Years ago, a CEO of a large agri-business on the West Coast interrupted a deposition after weeks of proceedings involving his corporations. He said, “Mr. Quiat, I have no choice but to settle with you. You are making me out to be a racketeer, and if I lose on that, then I can’t conduct business in the Imperial Valley of California.” So, this can create pressure for some people. If you are already a convicted felon, it doesn’t seem to have much effect, but many times it’s important.
In addition, if we make out a claim of racketeering, we automatically get treble damages, which means three times the amount of damages that we would have otherwise gotten. It increases the amount of pressure on someone, gives us more room to negotiate, gives us more leverage to induce a settlement and creates pain. Those statutes also allow me to obtain injunctions and court orders to prevent you from engaging in most any kind of business. I can pick your companies and take them apart under judicial supervision. They are very powerful statutes, and they can sometimes allow us to increase the amount of your judgment. Racketeering is getting easier to show. Racketeering in general must show a pattern of racketeering conduct, which consists of three or more predicate acts within a 10 year period. There is a list of criminal statutes that constitute the predicate acts. However, on the civil side of things, I do not have to prove that you did it beyond a reasonable doubt; I just have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that you did it.
Which are my favorite in the list of predicate acts? I love wire fraud and I love mail fraud. Wire fraud means using the telecommunication system to make a phone call, send an SMS text message or send an email, or issuing a bank wire transfer, each instance of which is an instance of wire fraud. In the past 10 year period, it has gotten easier and easier to show predicate acts constituting a pattern of racketeering conduct.
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