I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment broker. This article is my opinion, based on my experience in California. If you ever need legal advice, please contact a lawyer.
When enforcer or recovery specialist is used in this article, it means professionals in the debt or judgment recovery business, including lawyers and judgment buyers.
Judgments are usually more powerful than debts, and almost every civil judgment for money, begins life as a debt.
Most new judgment owners or enforcers are way too impressed by most big-dollar face value judgments. The dollar amount of a judgment has nothing to do with the chances that it will be recovered. The debtor’s situation is 95% of any judgment recovery. The exception is very small judgments, because smaller judgments are usually easier to recover.
A $100 judgment against Apple Computer might be worth $100 (less if you pay a professional to recover it). A million dollar judgment against an old homeless alcoholic is probably worth nothing.
Even when the debtor has assets, the bigger the judgment, the less chance there is that cheap enforcement techniques will work, and the more chance the debtor will attempt to take actions to drive up costs and/or prevent recovery. Do you have enough money to pay the court and Sheriff? Do you have enough experience recovering large judgements? Are you willing to show up in court often?
In many cases, once a debtor thinks they will be sued, or you get a judgment against them, they have already moved, hid, gave away, or transferred their assets.
Many times, the best scoundrels hide assets in people’s names that they (e.g.) knew in high school, that a creditor will never learn about. Sometimes they are in such a hurry, they make a mistake, and that could open the door for a future judgment recovery.
In the case of big judgments against scoundrels, sometimes a good enforcer can recover a judgment many years later. Sometimes it is like a long-term chess game. Other times, it becomes an eventual answer to the puzzle of, where did the assets go?
If you take on a big judgment, make sure both you and the original judgment creditor have realistic expectations. Once in a while, a debtor has a lot of assets showing. Even rarer, some debtors have much more assets than is required to recover the judgment.
On regular tough judgments, the contingency charge (fee) is usually 50% of what is recovered, with no costs to the original judgment creditor.
In the rare situation, when the debtors are really rich, stable, and have many assets showing, the fees change, and many enforcers will charge less of a percentage.
In my line of work, I see a pattern often. A person or entity was not content with merely being well off, and they defrauded people or entities, got sued, and got judgments against them. Years later, usually the debtor (and many people) are not doing as well as they were in the past.
Frauds rarely make wise long-term choices, and the economic decline has made even wise choices now seem foolish. The average fraud has lost more than the average non-fraud. When a debtor is old, gets sick, loses their job, home, or dies; it is usually harder to recover judgments against them.
Clever debtors with assets, usually hide them in other people’s names or overseas. Most debtors do not have enough available assets showing to recover a big judgment against them. Before trying to collect a big judgment against a hardened fraudster debtor, ask yourself, Do you have the financial resources to cover court fees, court reporter fees, private investigators, and myriad other expenses? Or are you just going to half-ass it and hope for the best? Are you really prepared to take on a fraudulent debtor with vastly greater financial resources behind them?
While creditors with time and money, might want to annoy a debtor without available assets, any enforcer that works on a contingency basis will give up when there are no possible available assets to satisfy the judgment. Also, laws can change in one way or another, that may make it harder to recover judgments.