Can You Bypass The Sheriff?

August 9, 2023


I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment broker. This article is only my opinion, about the (mostly California) laws I have read, and what I have learned. Nothing in any of my articles should ever be considered legal advice.

Many creditor’s wish they could take money directly from the judgment debtor. That will not work, because a judgment is not cash. You cannot bring a judgment to a bank, and use it to get the judgment debtor’s money. You cannot go to the debtor’s house and take their wallet. (Well, you could – but you would later regret doing that.)

Many Sheriff departments are overworked, sometime because of the economy, and sometimes (in the summer months) because stopping a certain variety of plant from being grown, is occasionally a higher priority than performing levies.

Wouldn’t it be great, if you could just bypass the Sheriff, and levy a debtor’s wages or bank account yourself? You could simply ask that the payments go directly to you. There is no real harm in asking, however asking will be as effective and appropriate, as asking a dog to sing “Happy Birthday”.

Generally, in every state, assets must go from the debtor’s asset location, to the Sheriff, and then from the Sheriff to you. There are very few exceptions to this. One exception is the turnover order of cash at a debtor exam. Another is in one or more states (E.g. Montana), where Registered Process Servers are bonded, and may levy on cash that the judgment debtor has in their possession, vehicles the creditor has arranged a sale for, and can also handle wage garnishments and bank levies directly. In California, a judgment debtor exam creates a one-year “silent lien” on all their personal property, which might make you a secured creditor if they later file for bankruptcy protection.

Even in Montana, Registered Process Servers cannot take non-liquid assets, even though the statutes say they can, because the laws have no provision for how the assets might be stored or sold by a Registered Process Server.

I assert, that in every state, one must get a writ of execution from the court, open a levy file with the Sheriff (except perhaps in Montana), and perhaps hire a registered process server or the Sheriff to levy banks and wages, or to seize the assets of their judgment debtor.

Every state’s laws have mandated that a levying officer is required to seize the assets of a judgment debtor.

In California, CCP 701.010 states: “(a) Except as otherwise provided by statute, when a levy is made by service of a copy of the writ of execution and a notice of levy on a third person, the third person at the time of levy or promptly thereafter shall comply with this section.

(b) Unless the third person has good cause for failure or refusal to do so: (1) The third person shall deliver to the levying officer any of the property levied upon that is in the possession or under the control of the third person at the time of levy unless the third person claims the right to possession of the property.”

Attempting to bypass the Sheriff might be actionable as a misuse of legal process. Even if you could bypass the Sheriff, there would be problems. For instance, the writ will not get properly credited by the Sheriff, and the Sheriffs return to court would be incorrect, it would affect 3rd-party rights on possible claims of ownership, affect the debtor’s ability to quash or claim exemptions, muddies 3rd-party liability about compliance with the levy, etc.

In California, another reason you cannot bypass the Sheriff, the judgment debtor has a right to reclaim their personal property within 30 days, before it is sold to satisfy the judgment. A vehicle (either seized or turned over) must be stored in a secure location for 30 days. This is why the Sheriff uses a tow truck to bring the vehicle to a tow yard. Things get expensive for the creditor, paying the storage fee for 30 days or more.

In California, the only exception to the Sheriff acting as the levying officer, would be if a coroner or an elisor was appointed, pursuant to CCP 262.8. That would require a court order, and will require persuading a judge a regular levy process would not be sufficient.

Only cash (or the equivalent to cash) can be seized by a Sheriff, and eventually delivered directly to a creditor. Any other debtor asset will have to be seized, stored, and later sold at a Sheriff’s Auction.

What if an employer responds to a Sheriff levy by sending checks to you instead of the sheriff? Do not keep the check, notify the employer that the checks should be sent to the Sheriff, and notify the Sheriff, and send the check to the Sheriff. You will get a check soon and bypass any problems by taking the correct action.

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