Thursday, August 11, 2011

And Justice For All?

Usually I am a proponent of the justice system and following the rules of the courts, but there are some issues in Chester County that appear to be a miscarriage of that justice. A Downingtown resident had taken their dog to the vet in January and paid the bill with a check. The vet then later called and said that they had not paid the bill at all, however the resident took her bank statement to the vet and showed that the check was cashed and it was not returned. The resident, whom I shall call Paula, thought that that was the end of the issue, but it was not. In July of 2011 Paula was sent by regular mail with no specific return address an “Execution of Sale” where her belongings would be sold off to pay for a lawsuit that was brought against her for delinquency of payment. Paula never knew that the suit had been brought against her and when she went to the court (15-4-2 in Thorndale) to find out what needed to be done she was faced with an extremely rude court clerk who would offer no assistance other than to tell Paula she wasn’t going to argue and the fine needed to be paid. As Paula is a neighbor I have seen how she handles some situations so I offered to help so that possibly the problem could be solved and the anger she felt towards Downingtown could be managed. I asked Paula to tell me the story from start to finish leaving out no detail. The only other detail that seemed pertinent was the fact that service was made on her in March, but the service documents were not in her possession and the constable served Paula’s daughter. Paula has four children, the oldest is 14. The daughter that was allegedly served is 10. I did some research online and asked a legal expert if that was legal and he told us that Paula should file to vacate the suit because it was not good service. Paula and I even made a trip down to Legal Aid in West Chester to find out that they did not find it to be a pressing enough matter to help. Paula’s husband had been out of work since May on medical disability, they were having to negotiate rent with their landlord and they were facing an approximately $300 bill or their possessions would be sold, and it’s not a pressing matter. A very kind friend of Paula’s loaned her the money and she and I ventured down to court. The court clerk again was rude and downright nasty until Paula said to stop the sale she would pay the money. Paula paid what she was told, got a receipt saying paid in full and copies of the documents along with the name of the constable (John Ross) who allegedly served Paula’s 10 year old daughter. Funds have been very tight for Paula and her family and she is unable to afford legal counsel to fight this injustice, but now the plot thickens. Today Paula was called by the rude clerk and told that there was a clerical error and that she owed an additional $150. It was suggested that Paula call and ask to see the Judge who made the initial ruling. My husband and myself went with Paula since we felt she was being unfairly treated by a system that is supposed to be just. Judge Jeffrey Valocchi appeared and told Paula that she had to pay the additional $150 because it was a clerical error and if she had gone into a retail store and purchased an item that was listed for $200 dollars and the clerk told her it was $150 she didn’t get the item for $150 she had to pay the $200. My husband and I were sitting off to the side quietly and I will admit to frowning trying to understand his meaning, when the judge looked at me and asked, “Are you a lawyer?” I responded with , “No and I haven’t said anything.” Judge Valocchi stated, “No you haven’t but you will not react in my court!” The judge told Paula that it was his court and he could do what he wanted and she had to pay. The only time he showed any type of humanity was when Paula said that she needed back surgery. The judge then offered her six months to pay the $150 and her things would not be sold.

Granted Paula now has six months to either come up with the additional money or appeal, but how in the world did it get to this point if the people issuing the court orders were actually looking at what they were affixing their signature? How is it legal to serve a 10 year old? How is it a way to help the public handle their legal issues if the clerks speak in a tone that is disrespectful and rude? Judge Valocchi is up for re-election and the constables in your area are elected in also. You might want to double check who you are voting for and how they handle due process before you pull the lever in November.