I am not a lawyer, I am a Judgment Broker. This article is my opinion, and not legal advice, based on my experience in California, and laws vary in each state. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
It can take years or longer (and sometimes never) to recover a judgment. What should you do when you are a judgment enforcer, contingency attorney, or a collection agency, and you recover some money, and then cannot locate the Original Judgment Owner (OJC) to pay them their share of that recovery?
The more money owed to the OJC, the more important this issue becomes. Anyone that recovers a judgment on a contingency basis, after money is recovered, has a fiduciary responsibility to the OJC for their share of what is recovered. The OJC’s share is defined by the purchase agreement.
Can one keep the OJC’s share of recovered money after some certain time period? There are two answers, the first answer is no, it is never your money. The other answer is, you can think of the money as a temporary loan that will very likely have to be repaid one day.
When the OJC’s money has been retained for years, yet the OJC cannot be found, some experts would recommend that the OJC’s money be sent to the State as unclaimed funds. That way, no skeletons could ever come out of the closet. In some states, like Texas, it is the law, unclaimed funds must be sent to the State. A link to unclaimed property laws for all states is at http://cojoweb.com/unclaimed-property.html.
Before you spend any of the OJC’s money, consider these five points/actions:
1) Email, mail, callm or leave voice mail, for all the contacts you have for the OJC. Whatever that does not bounce, send again one more time, in 30 days.
2) Remember, this is really not your money. The money is a deferred obligation to repay. There is a chance you will never be told to repay it. However, always remember that probably one day, you will have to return it.
3) Use the same data services and search systems you would use with a debtor, for your OJC. My opinion is that you have a permissible purpose because you are working on a judgment or debt, for the benefit of a consumer. (The government and data services seem to consider everyone a consumer.) I cannot imagine anyone getting upset when you skip trace someone for the sole purpose of sending them a check.
4) Document with both a paper file, and on your computer, when the money was recovered, and how much the OJC is owed. Because you might have to pay money to the OJC one day, never delete or destroy any case file information. Be sure to document how you diligently and repeatedly tried to locate the OJC.
Keep the goal of trying to return the OJC’s money. If you cannot find the OJC, repeat a simple search for them every year. If anyone suspects you are purposely being evasive, they might try to sue you.
5) Be very willing to quickly return all the money, if the OJC, or someone from their estate, contacts you. I do not think you will owe the OJC any additional interest, unless your purchase contract specified that.
The bottom line is, the OJC’s money is never really yours. However, this is similar to an interest-free loan with a small chance of never needing to repay it.
Sometimes, the way life works is, when you spend someone else’s money, you will likely have to pay it back, usually at the most inconvenient time.