Yesterday, Clement and I were in San Diego for our small claims court date. We drove down Monday night and stayed with a friend (thanks, Jason and Patty!) because we were scheduled for 9:30 AM Tuesday morn.
Let me backtrack a little and tell you about the case. When Clement and I decided to move out in early summer, our roommates found a replacement in the way of the guy's old Navy friend. As a show of good faith (and out of the need for someone who was willing to take over the lease for the handful of months remaining), I had Clement write a check to the leasing office for rent for the month of August and half of it was to be reimbursed by the new tenant. His check bounced. We called him, he apologized, and we began making arrangements for a money order to be sent instead of a personal check. And nothing came. So Clement and I called him again. Repeatedly. We called the roommates. Repeatedly. We called the leasing office. Repeatedly. Finally, we filed for small claims.
Then came Hassle Part 2, which was serving him the papers. Because he was never around, our certified mailing of the court papers never made it to him. I asked a friend to file substitute service, which means leaving a copy with the roommates (whom, by the way, also owed money from this guy at this point) and mailing another copy. (Thanks, Lisa.) Despite all our best efforts, there was no way to ensure that he ever actually saw the paperwork. However, we had done everything we could with the information we had and we were pressed for time since the lease was ending. If we didn't get this done before they moved out, we wouldn't have an address for him.
We did our research. We prepped our case. And off we went to the San Diego Superior Court.
Even though websites told us most cases would take 10-15 mins, we were at the courthouse for about 2 hours. The 8:00AM block went over. Our case was placed in the middle of the 9:30 block. After a misplaced "Proof of Service" form was dug up, we finally went before the judge. The case before ours was a little amusing, which provided a brief moment of distraction and relaxation. The defendant, who called in instead of appearing and wouldn't stop talking over the judge, had to be told several times by the judge "Shut up, Ms. Davis." And I thought only TV judges did that.
Before we presented the case, the bailiff asked us if he was in the military. Yes, we responded, he is in the Navy. She and the judge winced. The judge seemed regretful as she informed us about all the protection that military personnel had. Maybe she has seen a lot of people hide behind it. Because we had no evidence that he was not deployed (how could we, when we don't even have a phone number for him), our case was rescheduled.
What a hassle.
But there are always silver linings, I suppose. The judge agreed to hear our case next time even if he does not show up, if we can provide a letter or some other evidence that he's not off fighting for our nation. She kindly rescheduled us for a Friday, which means Clement doesn't have to run down there in the middle of the week, between work days. Plus, we may actually get some time to visit with people if we stay the weekend.
As we stood in line at the Small Claims Business Office, I chatted up this elderly woman with a friendly smile. She told me about her case -- they were suing a painting company for taking their contract and their money, only to do a bad job and run off. We bonded over our laments that the defendants in our cases were so hard to track down. Their case has been going for a year but they were determined not to let these people get away with it. I decided they were right. It's not about the money. If people get away with stuff like this, it should never be because no one wanted to try and stop them. Working the system, though, is another story...
"It is not a Justice System. It is just a system." ~Bob Enyart