California Civil Sheriffs

August 9, 2023


I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment broker. This article is my opinion, based on my experience in California, and laws vary in each state. If you ever need legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.

Jurisdiction is one of the foundations of civil law. Usually, a judgment needs to be domesticated to the state and county, near the judgment debtor. When a bank does business in more than one state, sometimes one can have the Sheriff levy a branch in the creditor’s state, and levy far-away debtor bank funds with long-arm statues.

New York has made progress in this area. If a judgment debtor has an account in any bank, and that bank has an office in New York, one can levy on the account in NY, regardless of where the account was opened. One domesticates a judgment in New York, and levies the NY bank account.

However, in New York, there remains the problem of a new trial required to domesticate a default judgment there. Also, in NY, usually the first $1,716 to $2,500 in the judgment debtor’s bank account is exempt from levy.

All levies are done through Sheriffs or marshals, in the county where the assets of a judgment debtor are located. In California, there is a wide variation in the policies and performance of the County Sheriffs, in each of the 58 counties. Each Sheriff charges a fee to open a levy file, usually $30 to $35, and charges about $12 for every check they write you.

Every California Sheriff has their own policy on how levies may be served. Always verify Sheriff policies before you pay a Sheriff to levy a bank account. Usually, on a California levy, the bank sends a memorandum of garnishee to the Sheriff. However, if the levy is satisfied in full, the bank is not required to return the memorandum of garnishee to the Sheriff. Some County Sheriff’s offices now fax bank levies and EWOs to the garnishee. See CCP 263. If the garnishee is out of state, the Sheriff in that state cannot help with an out-of-state judgment debtor unless the debtor is a Federal or Postal worker.

It is a great advantage, when one can choose which county a bank levy will be done at. Each civil Sheriff office is different, all require you to pay them. Some will serve levies themselves, others require you to hire a registered process server. Some civil Sheriffs are quick, others are slow. All California Civil Sheriff Departments are professional and do the best job they can, however their priorities are often not on civil judgment recovery.

When it comes to turning around, or serving, levy paper work; most California Civil Sheriffs are average. Some are faster or slower than average, and below is a list of what I have observed about “non-average” California County Civil Sheriff departments in recent years:

Imperial County – rumored to be among the fastest of California Sheriffs on serving levies and sending money to judgment creditors.

Los Angeles County – the courts in this county charge to access online records as per Rule 2.506 and Government code 68150(h). The main downtown Los Angeles civil Sheriff is very slow. Use a registered process server to do levies. The Sheriffs of Santa Monica, Indio (Indio courts are notoriously bad), Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Burbank, Riverside, and Lancaster, are all very slow. Many Chatsworth judgment cases have been moved to Pasadena.) Now they seem to process everything from the Central Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff’s phones are 213-974-6613 and 213-974-6615 – however they do not seem to be answering their phone these days. Riverside Sheriff takes longer than 3 months to process a levy these days!

Los Angeles County – The Sheriffs of Antelope Valley, Beverly Hills, Chula Vista, West Covina (rumored to be extra quick), Torrance, Pasadena, Pomona, Inglewood, and El Monte (rumored to be extra quick), are all fast. The Malibu Sheriff is quick, however they are hard to find on a web search: Malibu Civil Sheriff, 1725 Main Street, Santa Monica, 90401 (310) 553-5033. Pasadena is very slow. The Sheriff office in the Stanley Mosk courthouse has reduced the hours bank levies can be opened to 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM on days they are open.

Los Angeles is so big there are several Sheriff substations. If you use a Sheriff to serve, you must stay at the same substation, however if you use a registered process server, you can use a different LA Sheriff substation. They seem to be the slowest court to process writs in California.

Things are often really bad, especially at the Stanley Mosk civil Sheriff department. They make process servers sign in, and wait a long time, as one employee slowly processes levies, making everyone wait a long time. This is crazy. Also, they sometimes reject paperwork when the judgment has been assigned. Some court forms like the MC-12, do not have an Assignee Of Record box. Explaining things to them sometimes works.

Other crazy things happen at the Stanley Mosk courthouse too. For example, several lawyers and enforcers have told me that Judge Kenji Machida has demonstrated several times, that he does not seem to understand everything about post-judgment debtor examinations. The solution might be either a Peremptory challenge to disqualify a judge whenever you are scheduled to appear in front of that judge, or filing an appeal afterward. Some attorneys use post-judgment discovery instead of a debtor examination at this court, because it costs about $175 to do a debtor examination and this court will not issue bench warrants when the properly served judgment debtors fail to show up.

One good things about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department is their web site allows you to look up levy status. On the LASD’s web site, there is a link that says Court Services/Civil Process. Click that and then click Case Inquiry. Enter the case number and the last name of the debtor or the original plaintiff. They also respond to email inquiries on their web site fairly quickly.

If the Los Angeles Sheriff does not respond to a (e.g) BOA bank levy, after a few months? The LA Sheriff Civil Bureau does not even list their fax number or their telephone number. If you do not get a copy of the memorandum of garnishee or employers return from the Sheriff after a few months, then perhaps writing them a letter might get results. In the letter, be polite but remind them of these California laws:

CCP 701.820(b), when the sheriff holds the money pay w/in 30 days) and (wage garnishment periodic payments CCP 706.026)

Government code 26680: If on demand the sheriff neglects or refuses to pay over to the person entitled any money which comes into his hands by virtue of his office, after deducting all legal fees, the person may recover the amount thereof and 25 percent damages and interest at the rate of 10 percent a month from the time of demand.

Government code 26685: Whenever any action is brought against any sheriff, all deputies and employees of the sheriff employed under any civil service or merit system upon whose negligence, willful or wrongful act, or other default the action is based are necessary parties defendant.

Marin County – The rumor is that the Sheriff in this county does nothing about civil bench warrants.

Napa County – The rumor is that the Sheriff in this county requires a W9 to be filled out before they will pay a creditor.

Orange County – Until very recently, this Sheriff redacted social security numbers on levy instructions to banks. Use a process server, or ask the bank to phone you for the judgment debtor SS number. Verify with the Orange County Sheriff is they will leave the full SS on garnishment papers only. As of August 20, 2012, they will accept levies only at their central office. They no longer accept calls or emails about the status of levies. You can still go there in person or request a status by mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Orange county has a centralized location (909 North Main Street, Santa Ana) for issuing writs and abstract of judgments, no matter which Orange County court issued the judgment. Orange county has become very slow (about 120 days now!), even when you pay for your own process server. They are extremely slow. They can hold funds as long as they wish, they do not start the clock until they cash the employer’s check. They get away with this because of CCP 701.820(d). Some have sued this Sheriff after filing a claim, citing CCP 701.820(B), CCP 706.026, and government codes 26680 and 26685. As of 2013, all documents in Orange county must be electronically filed, unless family or probate law cases. (As of 2013, Requires electronic filing of all documents except probate, small claims, and family law cases.) One needs an eFiling Service Provider (EFSP). Possible options are ABC Legal, (Preferred choice: American LegalNet), Essential Publishers, One Legal, Rapid Legal, and First Legal (located across the street from the Santa Ana court). DDS Legal is also very good. VIP Update! – Self-represented litigants are exempt from mandatory E-Filing as per CRC Rule 2.253(b)(2), which mentions CCP 1010.6.

Also, the Orange county court system may have forgotten about assignees of records filing documents. The work around is to file as the Plaintiff, then call or visit the court to have them fix it, wow, what progress! As of Thursday, January 31, 2013 – they are improving their response times. At least they seem to understand spousal levies. Also, it is good to be friendly as when you are on good terms with the Sheriff, and they know you, you tend to get your checks faster. Even so, they can take 6 months to pay a creditor.

If your efiled document is rejected, you can print out and present to the clerk, and will be permitted to file it over the counter. Writs of execution and abstracts of judgment must be printed on a color printer so the Orange county can be displayed in color, OMG!. Black and white will not be accepted as an original. And the cwazy wabbits at the Orange county court have their own special version of the Memorandum Of Costs. On contempt bench warrants for not showing at properly-served debtor exam, in Orange County they arrest the debtor, book them, then release them immmediately.

Sacramento County – has a very efficient and quick Civil Sheriff department. Also, the Sacramento small claims court is very debtor-friendly. However the court on 9th street is currently 3 months behind on writs and abstract processing! Sacramento courts are known to sometimes listen to debtor whining and/or crying, more than the case and code law.

San Bernardino County – very quick. However, they want a second levy fee if you go after community property of the debtor’s spouse! Expect more California Sheriff’s departments to do the same soon. Some Sheriffs will not require a second fee if the spousal affidavit is stapled to the writ as one document. Some Sheriff’s cite Government Code 26721 to support their $70.00 fee. Perhaps in the past they were not requiring it, but now are looking for any way to make an extra buck.

San Diego County – slow. (The El Cajon office is the fastest in San Diego by far to process local levies, everything else is processed downtown.) The courts there are planning to soon require all documents to be electronically filed. Budget cuts too. The San Diego Sheriff has announced that as of March 18, 2013: the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department will begin accepting electronically-issued writs. To facilitate the acceptance of electronically-issued writs, the San Diego County Sheriff has implemented the mandatory use of an ELECTRONIC/NON-ELECTRONIC WRIT DECLARATION form. This declaration is mandatory and must be provided when submitting any of the following:

* An ORIGINAL electronic writ not already in the possession of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
* A COPY of an original electronic writ already in possession of the levying officer.
* A COPY of a non-electronic writ already in possession of the levying officer.
* The levying officer file number must be provided when submitting a copy of any writ already in the possession of the levying officer.

There may be an exemption for original creditors and assignees not to have to electronically file. Their web site is at: www.sdsheriff.net/csb/civilprocessservice.html, and the PDF of their form is at: www.sdsheriff.net/csb/c-50.pdf In San Diego, when a bench warrant is issued for not showing up at a debtor examination, they may arrest the debtor and hold them until a court date ASAP.

(San Diego county courts might be hurting judgment recovery chances, charging certain assignees of record as if they are starting a new lawsuit, hundreds of dollars, shame on them. They take up to 6 months to issue writs or an abstract of judgment. Small claims takes “only” 3 months!)

San Francisco County – very quick.

Santa Clara County – fairly quick, however it can take them years to return an unsuccessful levy report.

What if the Sheriff is sitting on a big chunk of your money for months?

In California, CCP 703.610 (a) prohibits the Sheriff from releasing funds until all appeal periods have passed. This is the reason the Sheriff sponsored the change in the Writ law (CCP 699.520) because they needed to know the type of entity, to know who was authorized to sign Claims of Exemption, etc, and they needed to know the appeal period. Limited Civil cases have a 30 day period and Unlimited Civil cases have a 60 day period. Prior to the law change (and subsequent form change) the Sheriff held everything for 60 days.

Sheriffs offices do not make payments from their offices. They confirm money is owed, then do paperwork for a check requisition, which goes to the County Treasurer, who then sends you the check.

California law has some CCPs and government codes, after the appeal periods have passed, to get the Sheriff’s attention, send them a polite letter reminding them of the laws below:

CCP 701.820(b) says the Sheriff must pay within 30 days.
CCP 706.026 says how the Sheriff must handle wage garnishment periodic payments.

Government Code 26680: If on demand the Sheriff neglects or refuses to pay over to the person entitled any money which comes into his hands by virtue of his office, after deducting all legal fees, the person may recover the amount thereof and 25 percent damages and interest at the rate of 10 percent a month from the time of demand.

Government Code 26685: Whenever any action is brought against any Sheriff, all deputies and employees of the Sheriff employed under any civil service or merit system upon whose negligence, willful or wrongful act, or other default the action is based are necessary parties defendant.

As slow as some civil Sheriff’s have become, one idea I have heard, is to ask the court to appoint an elisor to carry out the duties that the sheriff is apparently unable to handle. Some have suggested a class action suit for all the enforcers not being paid by the Sheriff. The problem is that Class actions are very hard to do and a lot of work, with the class participants getting very little. Most of the money goes to the attorney(s) for the class. One judgment enforcer has filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff under the Private Attorney General Act, and asked for their attorney’s fee under CCP 1021.5 on behalf of themselves and “others similarly situated”. The Sheriff has a mandatory duty and a breach thereof, can be had under Government code 815.6 in addition to code 26680.

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