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Justice If You're Not Rich

 
 
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 04:21 am
For people who know the law, which I certainly do not, I have the following question.

A very poor man walks into a store and buys a radio. He gets it 10 feet from the shop, turns it on and finds out that it doesn't work. He goes back into the store and asks for his money back, and the store owner says, "I have your money now, and I plan on keeping it." The man goes home and opens up the radio case, and finds that it is very badly damaged and not repairable. What can he do, since he cannot afford a lawyer? Can shop keepers, in fact, cheat outrageously to your face, with a very good likelihood of impunity?

I know that there are things he could do that have an outside chance of working, like calling the local TV news and so on, but is there anything he can do that has more than a minor chance of success?
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material girl
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 05:45 am
He could go back to the shop, take another radio and walk out with it.The shop owner would hesitate in getting the law involved as his unfair previous behavior would be exposed.

Thats what id like to do anyway but back to reality.

All I know from working in a shop years back is that the item has to be 1.as described, 2.fit for the purpose and 3. of acceptable quality.The radio is not of acceptable quality therfore it is faulty and the purchaser is untitled to their money back.
They need to get the Trading Standards Agency involved.

A receipt will back up his claim just to prove he bought the item.
He could also keep note of any conversations or letters he sends to the shop owner.
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Bi-Polar Bear
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 06:15 am
you've been hurt haven't you sweetie?
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 06:30 am
material girl wrote:
He could go back to the shop, take another radio and walk out with it.....


Um, no, sorry, but that's not a good idea. No one should be hurtling headlong into getting themselves arrested.

Especially since there's a perfectly good remedy and it does not involve hiring a lawyer. It's called Small Claims Court. Every state has one. Their financial jurisdictional limits vary, e. g. if the amount of money in question is above a certain figure (which varies from state to state), then Small Claims does not have jurisdiction and you have to go to Superior Court (but you still do not absolutely have to have a lawyer). A radio, unless it's one of those incredibly fancy-shmancy Bose wave radios, is not going to go above most Small Claims Courts' jurisdictional limits.

And, also, people can represent themselves. This is called pro se representation. This is not vigilante justice or just taking something in the hopes that the police will be understanding once a receipt is produced and everyone gets a chance to talk it out. Rather, this is going to court and acting as your own representative. You need to follow court rules and prepare filings just like a lawyer does. And your neighbor who is not a lawyer CANNOT represent you -- only you can represent you if you are not an attorney.

But beware - the man who acts as his own attorney generally has a fool for a client.

Oh, and one more thing, there's such a thing as Legal Aid or Legal Services for poor and lower-income people. Legal services are either free or offered at very reasonable rates. Check your phone book or call the local Bar Association for details. And rent Gideon's Trumpet from the video store if you want to see a film about free legal services -- and why the Supreme Court got involved in making sure that everyone -- even the poorest among us -- would have access to legal representation.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 08:24 am
jespah wrote:
material girl wrote:
He could go back to the shop, take another radio and walk out with it.....


Um, no, sorry, but that's not a good idea. No one should be hurtling headlong into getting themselves arrested.

Especially since there's a perfectly good remedy and it does not involve hiring a lawyer. It's called Small Claims Court. Every state has one. Their financial jurisdictional limits vary, e. g. if the amount of money in question is above a certain figure (which varies from state to state), then Small Claims does not have jurisdiction and you have to go to Superior Court (but you still do not absolutely have to have a lawyer). A radio, unless it's one of those incredibly fancy-shmancy Bose wave radios, is not going to go above most Small Claims Courts' jurisdictional limits.

And, also, people can represent themselves. This is called pro se representation. This is not vigilante justice or just taking something in the hopes that the police will be understanding once a receipt is produced and everyone gets a chance to talk it out. Rather, this is going to court and acting as your own representative. You need to follow court rules and prepare filings just like a lawyer does. And your neighbor who is not a lawyer CANNOT represent you -- only you can represent you if you are not an attorney.

But beware - the man who acts as his own attorney generally has a fool for a client.

Oh, and one more thing, there's such a thing as Legal Aid or Legal Services for poor and lower-income people. Legal services are either free or offered at very reasonable rates. Check your phone book or call the local Bar Association for details. And rent Gideon's Trumpet from the video store if you want to see a film about free legal services -- and why the Supreme Court got involved in making sure that everyone -- even the poorest among us -- would have access to legal representation.

This is useful information and appreciated, but is there any way of making the government enforce its own laws without having to sue? Are there any watchdog agencies that are effective in enforcing the law for individual incidents? I am curious as to whether the government does anything to prevent outrageous, in-your-face violations of the law against the common folks.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 08:47 am
This is a civil case between two private parties.

Why do you want the government involved?
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 08:47 am
((I hope this worm dangling in front of me doesn't contain a hook))
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 08:52 am
This info is for much bigger cases than the one you describe, but I just found out about it (the things you learn by editing!) and kind of fits here:

There is evidently something called lawsuit loans or lawsuit financing, that provides funds for someone with a good case but not enough money to start the lawsuit. I thought of it for shewolf, but it evidently is mainly for situations where a significant monetary settlement is expected. So for example if you have a strong case and expect to get a $10,000 settlement if you take it to court but can't afford to bring it to court, a company (there are a few companies just for this) will "loan" you 10-15% of the expected settlement so you can afford to take it to court, and then take some percentage of the settlement once you get it.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:00 am
ebrown_p wrote:
This is a civil case between two private parties.

Why do you want the government involved?

I know this is a complex concept, but I don't actually want to spend a year and thousands of dollars in court anytime someone feels like ignoring the law. It's a lot of trouble. See? This isn't a disagreement about a neighbor's apple tree that hangs over my yard, it's a case of a shop keeper deciding that the law is a joke if the customer is poor.

I don't want the trouble and expense of prosecuting a criminal myself, if he has blatantly violated the law. In practice, most people don't want to interrupt their typical day spending a year or two going after someone in court. What is the good of having laws, if the government makes you enforce them yourself at huge trouble and expense? By the way, the incident is fictitious. To the best of my recollection, nothing this egregious has ever happened to me.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:07 am
This isn't prosecuting a criminal (the state does that); it's a civil lawsuit. So it's a private matter between parties.

The courts really are the best place to pursue such things as money talks and the publicity from lawsuits (which, as you said above, could involve contacting the local TV station) together can really do it to a store owner's reputation. Obviously, you don't go around destroying a rep unfairly, but for a person engaging in unfair dealings, if there is a legit lawsuit going on between the parties, there's nothing malicious or wrong about contacting the local news. And it's up to the local station as to whether they think the matter is newsworthy enough to report on the air.

You can contact the cops and tell them what happened. Then they may or may not follow up on it, but they will probably give similar advice, e. g. to pursue the matter in court, as it is not a violent offense and not for a huge amount of money in contention.

soz - personal injury lawyers (which is not the case here, this is a property matter) will often take on a case for no pay and are paid at the conclusion of the case. They then take out court fees and costs (e. g. postage) from the settlement, plus a percentage of the fee, usually 1/3 although sometimes 1/4 if the amount awarded is particularly large. Hence the lawsuit loan in that case isn't needed; that need is already being fulfilled under the current system. But the loan could be a good idea for a property damage matter or a contract case or some other non-personal injury claim.

What kind of interest do they charge?
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:09 am
jespah wrote:
This isn't prosecuting a criminal (the state does that); it's a civil lawsuit. So it's a private matter between parties.

Not sure what you mean. It was one of the postulates of my problem statement that the shop keeper is a criminal. He is gleefully violating the law because he thinks you're weak. A criminal is someone who breaks the law, especially knowingly.
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material girl
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:10 am
Cant the guy just find a cop on the street tell him the sitution, walk into the shop with the cop and see if the shop owner changes his mind?
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:11 am
Here's one definition I found (not related to what I was editing -- the piece I was editing contained something about it and it made no sense the way it was written, so I went and researched it):

Quote:
What Is a "Lawsuit Loan"?

The term "lawsuit loan" is usually used in reference to a form of pre-settlement lawsuit funding which is not actually a loan, but is instead an advance fee, "investment" or form of venture capital. While actual loans or lines of credit may be available to finance lawsuits, those options are usually reserved to lawyers and law firms. The plaintiff in a personal injury case who seeks to obtain a cash advance against the verdict or settlement in a lawsuit will not ordinarily be offered a loan, but will instead be offered "no recourse lawsuit funding".

The advantage of this form of lawsuit financing is that it carries no risk to the plaintiff - if the lawsuit settles for less than the amount of the cash advance, or if the defendant ultimately prevails and there is no recovery at all, the plaintiff has no obligation to the lawsuit funding company beyond the plaintiff's own share of any recovery. At the same time, the costs of a "lawsuit loan" can be considerable, as they are structured to avoid usury laws, and thus they are generally best viewed as a last resort for financing litigation.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:12 am
This is the first definition I found:

Quote:
The costs of litigation constantly increase, and persons with meritorious claims are less and less able to obtain redress for their grievances. A way to remedy this problem in part is to make financing available to clients and their lawyers with meritorious lawsuits, on a free-market basis, with the money going to the persons with the most meritorious claims involving the best prospects for monetary recovery. Frivolous claims are money losers and are not worthy of financing, thus the immediate objection which some persons will raise (that this would promote frivolous litigation) is a frivolous objection and the person making such objection is either without adequate information or has a hidden agenda (to discourage meritorious litigation against his/her clients). In many civil cases brought by impoverished clients using lawyers working on a contingent-fee basis, the costs of litigation can far exceed the monoey being spent by the prosecution or the defense in the famous O.J. Simpson case. For example, the attorney for Art Buchwald in his suit against Paramount reports that he spent $500,000 in out-of-pocket expenses and $3,000,000 in legal time up to that point (of book authorship) and the case is not over yet. Most clients and lawyers don't have this kind of money available for a lawsuit, but the lawsuit itself, if meritorious, can provide the basis, through lawsuit financing. The amounts do not have to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. Lawsuit financing can work for as little as hundreds or thousands of dollars, always depending on many factors which have to be considered.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:19 am
material girl wrote:
Cant the guy just find a cop on the street tell him the sitution, walk into the shop with the cop and see if the shop owner changes his mind?

This is sort of my question. Is there any way at all to get the government to enforce its laws?
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Ticomaya
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:26 am
Brandon9000 wrote:
material girl wrote:
Cant the guy just find a cop on the street tell him the sitution, walk into the shop with the cop and see if the shop owner changes his mind?

This is sort of my question. Is there any way at all to get the government to enforce its laws?


Brandon: Which laws are you referring to?

MG: The guy could go get that cop, walk into the store with the cop, the cop would look at the guy and say, "This is a civil matter ... I can't help you."

If there is fraud involved, the guy can contact his local D.A. and file a complaint of consumer fraud. He can certainly contact the local Better Business Bureau. He should file a small claims action against the store owner.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 09:40 am
Ticomaya wrote:
Brandon9000 wrote:
material girl wrote:
Cant the guy just find a cop on the street tell him the sitution, walk into the shop with the cop and see if the shop owner changes his mind?

This is sort of my question. Is there any way at all to get the government to enforce its laws?


Brandon: Which laws are you referring to?

MG: The guy could go get that cop, walk into the store with the cop, the cop would look at the guy and say, "This is a civil matter ... I can't help you."

If there is fraud involved, the guy can contact his local D.A. and file a complaint of consumer fraud. He can certainly contact the local Better Business Bureau. He should file a small claims action against the store owner.

Filing a consumer fraud complaint with the DA sounds a little closer to having the government provide protection for the common folks like me. Thanks.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 10:11 am
There are several kinds of laws which could be involved. Some are civil, e. g. no jail time, it's just for money or for specific performance (that is, you just get a working radio for your troubles) whereas others involve potential jail time.

I don't want to go into a long explanation but not everything in the courts is a criminal matter - far from it! When two people are involved in a car accident, for example, it's virtually always a civil matter, even if one person was killed.

Now, not to confuse you any more than perhaps you already are, the two things your radio buyer is going to want are (1) justice, such as that is, in whatever form he thinks it should be and (2) either a working radio or enough money back from the transaction in order to get a working radio. Yes? If that's the case, then #1 is a criminal matter (maybe) whereas #2 is a civil matter. This could end up as two cases in two different courts. What I was talking about -- Small Claims -- that's for #2. Going to a cop, going to the DA, that's for #1.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 01:48 pm
There is no way that this should be treated as a criminal matter.

First of all, from your original post... it is not clear that a crime has been commited. You didn't say anything about the law. You didn't tell us if there was an "as is" sign at the store or if the merchandise was obviously of lower quality.

So what the heck do you want the police officer to do?

The guy comes and says-- I bought this radio. It is a piece of crap. The guy tricked me. He won't give me my money back.

The store owner is going to have another story. He might say "the sign says 'as is'", or he might say "it was working when it left the store"

You want to put store owner in danger of getting arrested when they have disagreements with customers.

It is the job of a judge to make judgements on issues like this. There is no reason for the cops to get involved, and even if they are-- it is still going to go in front of a judge.

The system we have now works very well. I had a disagreement with a landlady. She held back a security deposit. I felt is was illegal for her to keep this money. She had her story about why she should be allowed to.

I was charged $35 to go to small claims court (this money can be waived if you are poor). The judge listened to both sides of the story. We won and were awarded triple damages. End of story. I felt really good.

In cases of systemic fraud, you can go to the State Government who will add legal resources and law enforcement to the mix.

The system as we have it right now works perfectly well-- for the rich or the poor.

Just how would you like to change it?

Tell me how you would handle accusations against store clerks if you were in charge?
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Sep, 2005 02:34 pm
ebrown_p wrote:

...Just how would you like to change it?

Tell me how you would handle accusations against store clerks if you were in charge?

The clerk would be brought to my palace where my chamberlain would read the charges against him, as I sat on my throne. If the clerk attempted to speak at any time, a burly guard would yell, "Silence, dog!!!" and knock him down. Then the sentence would be read and implemented. It would probably be a whipping followed by imprisonment in the dungeon.
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