Judgment Recovery Case Study: Hot Diggity Dog

People ask me what my day-to-day routine is like running my business – to which my response is always, “No two days are ever the same!” But I also know that wrapping your head around a new concept like judgment recovery can be a little mysterious to anyone who isn’t actually in the field.

For me, personally, real-life examples have always been the best way to grasp what something’s all about – so following is the first of three case studies that I’ll be sending you. These are actual judgment recovery cases, though I’ve changed the names for privacy purposes. This first case involves a judgment that was awarded to an individual person, against another individual.

To summarize the events leading up to the judgment, John Bennett’s Saint Bernard dug out from under his fence and proceeded to completely destroy his neighbor, Tom Campbell’s flower beds. Did someone bury a bone under there? Maybe it was the fertilizer… we’ll just never know. Unfortunately, Mr. Campbell had just spent thousands of dollars for professional landscaping and design. Needless to say,  when Mr. Bennett made it clear that he wasn’t inclined to pay for his dog’s tip-toe through the tulips, Mr. Campbell took Mr. Bennett to court to sue for compensation. A judgment was awarded to Mr. Campbell for $6,000.00.


To get right to the heart of the matter, we’ll pick this up from the point where the judgment has already been assigned, which was six years after it was awarded. We negotiated that I would enforce the judgment, keeping half of what I collected, and send the other half to Mr. Campbell as payment for the judgment. If you’re interested in the marketing process, you can read my article about that here: Marketing a Judgment Recovery Business

These cases all start out in much the same way. When the documents to assign the judgment were mailed to Mr. Campbell for a signature, I included a ‘Debtor Profile Worksheet’ – which is a tool I use to find out any and all information Mr. Campbell may have about Mr. Bennett (the judgment debtor). In this particular case, I received nothing more from Mr. Campbell other than Mr. Bennett’s name and old mailing address. That’s okay. That’s enough to start the pre-screening process.

Before I really got the ball rolling, I had to be sure I was pursuing the correct person and that I was aware of any potential aliases John Bennett was using. I also needed to get an idea about where I should start looking, so my first step was to use a credit header report to locate Bennett’s social security number, date of birth, and a reasonably current address. Seriously – with the right tools and resources all you need is a name and address to nail down this information.

Next, as part of my due diligence, I checked to make sure that the judgment hadn’t been included in any bankruptcy discharge. This, too, is a very basic and simple search. Bankruptcy filings can be a goldmine of information – so long as the actual debt wasn’t included in the discharge of debts. Bennett hadn’t filed any bankruptcy proceedings, so after that, I was good to go.

Since I always try to start with resources that are free – because let’s face it, free is good – I ‘Googled’ John Bennett to see if I could dig up anything floating around the Internet. You’d really be surprised at what’s out there… Newspaper articles, genealogies, LinkedIn, FaceBook profiles – just to name a few.

Unfortunately, this time I didn’t hit pay dirt. So next I turned to free public records to see if Bennett currently owned any real estate or businesses. Nada. I wasn’t discouraged, though, it’s all just part of the process. It was time to pull out the big guns, which in this case, was a full consumer credit report. This isn’t the same thing as a credit header report… It reveals much more information about the debtor, including credit history, any collections, and often employment information.

The consumer credit report revealed that Bennett was working at the local power plant. I called the plant’s Human Resource Department to make sure Mr. Bennett was still gainfully employed. Happily, he was still there. In which case I decided my best option was a wage garnishment. In my state, I am entitled to 25% of his paycheck.

To get it all started, I had the court issue a writ of execution. This is basically a document from the court that verifies facts about the case (how much the judgment is and when it was awarded, how much interest has accrued, who the parties are, etc.). It serves as my ‘permission’ from the court to garnish Bennett’s wages or to seize any other asset I can find. I completed and delivered all the paperwork for my garnishment and paid my filing and levying fees.

If you’re wondering about the costs I incurred in this case, they are as follows:

Credit Header Report:  $1.50
Bankruptcy Check:  $0.15
Consumer Credit Report: $15.00
Writ of Execution: $15.00
Wage Garnishment Fee: $25.00

TOTAL:  $56.65

My wage garnishment went off without a hitch. Every time Bennett was paid by his employer, I was also mailed a check for 25% of his disposable income. Because I was receiving checks every week (and these tend to pile up when you have 15 or 20 garnishments from different cases going at one time), I opted to send Mr. Campbell, the original judgment holder, quarterly payments – simply to avoid any unnecessary bookkeeping gymnastics.

At this point, I could have invested a little more elbow grease to locate Mr. Bennett’s bank account and taken that too, but steady payments from garnishments are a great source of residual income. Now that I had that going, it was pretty much on auto-pilot, so I could free up my time and attention for other cases.

Next week I’ll send the second installment of this series; a case study involving an individual person that sued a company, and the details that led to that particular happy ending.

As usual, I welcome any comments or questions.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery
SJR Strategic Research

Please note: I am not an attorney, nor do I aspire to be one. If you need legal advice, please consult qualified legal counsel.

5 Steps: From Daydreaming to Starting a Business

As a self-confessed opportunity junkie, I’ve spent countless hours daydreaming about new business ideas. Most of the time an idea only takes hold long enough for me to think how wonderful it would be if I could (“insert random idea of the day”)… Sometimes though, an idea actually gets some glue and I’ll spend even more time envisioning how to turn the dream into reality. I’m sure we’ve all done that, but actually navigating an idea from your imagination to the real world can be a daunting task to even consider.

I heard an old rock ‘n roll song the other day that inspired me to write about this topic. It was one of those songs that I sing along to, without really thinking about the words. The Eagles said it so eloquently: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains – and we never even know we have the key.” Personally, the “key” for me was to get off my butt, stop daydreaming and GET MOVING.

Here are some suggestions to help you get your own head out of the clouds:

1. Make an Official Road Map. Obviously, you already know where point “A” is. Point “A” is that idea rattling around in your brain looking for a way to see the light of day. This is true whether it’s your own original idea, or someone else’s business model that you’re considering for yourself. Now think about where you ultimately want to go on this entrepreneurial expedition. There will be several required points of interest along the way, and you may not even realize where all the pit stops are going to be, but recording your idea in writing is a great way to map out a plan of action. It will be your compass and provide you with a logical sequence of steps to get you where you want to go.

2. K.I.S.S. If you’re not familiar with that acronym, it means Keep It Simple Stupid (umm… not that I’m implying that you’re stupid – but you get the idea). Don’t obsess over making every little aspect of your business perfect, because at this point it’s impossible to even know what that should be. Focus instead on how you can make your primary product or service desirable to your customer – the rest can be fine-tuned later. Remember that nothing is set in stone. At this stage of the process (or any stage, for that matter) you can always change what doesn’t work, or tweak what does.

3. Use the tools in your toolbox. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to invest money in brand new equipment, especially if you already have the tools to get the job done. Too often I see people get caught up in the mindset that they must squirrel away a ton of money to purchase brand new computers, printers and other office equipment. Or worse – those who think they must give wads of cash to hungry web designers for flashy, expensive websites. To keep your costs low, think about using what you already have and save your hard-earned resources for legitimate start-up necessities. The bells and whistles will come down the road.

4. Take the First Step. When starting a business (or even a major project) one reason it’s so difficult to get started is because there are just so many tasks demanding your attention. It can be positively overwhelming when the whole enchilada is staring you in the face. But I’ll tell you this – nothing will happen unless you take the first step. Splash some hot sauce on that son-of-a-gun and take a bite. For Pete’s sake, just pick something simple, like identifying who your target market will be. That should be easy enough, and you’ll feel terrific for taking action toward making something actually happen. Overcome your analysis paralysis… When you begin to take those initial steps, pretty soon you’ll gain some momentum.

5. Get the word out. Talk about your new business and let people know you’re starting. Nothing gets your engine revving faster than talking about a new business with friends, family and other acquaintances. Not only will it make your new business more of a reality for you, but it also invites questions and answers from others that offer invaluable marketing insights. In fact, when I started my judgment recovery business, talking about it with others is exactly how I landed several of my first assignments. I swear – people were throwing the stuff at me. And then would you just look at that… I was started.

What’s stopping you?

Warm Regards,

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Have you seen the elephant?

A while back I came across a terrific saying that made me think about my judgment recovery business efforts over the years in a new light.

In the mid 19th century, during the California Gold Rush, the people who left their homes and way of life for the golden hills of California had a phrase for what they were about to experience: they called it “seeing the elephant.”

49ers and those planning to travel west, announced they were “going to see the elephant.” Those turning back claimed they had seen the “elephant’s tracks” or the “elephant’s tail,” and admitted they’d seen more than enough of the animal.

It’s said that this phrase originates with an old story told when elephants were still a
relatively uncommon sight in Northern America.

An old farmer, who had always aspired to see an elephant, heard a circus was coming to town and that there would most likely be elephants. He donned his best suit of clothes, loaded his farm wagon and set out on the day and a half journey to town.

On the way, he met the circus parade, which was led by an elephant. The old farmer was thrilled to finally have an opportunity to see an elephant, however, his horses were absolutely terrified.

They bolted at the strange sight – tipping over the wagon – as they ran in terror back to the farm. Not only was the old farmer stranded, but his produce and clothes were ruined beyond repair. “I don’t give a hang,” the farmer said, “for I have seen the elephant!”

In the Gold Rush days, California became symbolic for fresh starts and seeking fortunes. For these folks, the elephant symbolized both the high cost of their endeavor – the endless possibilities for fortune or misfortune either on the journey, or in California.

In retrospect, “seeing the elephant” reminds me of my early days in judgment recovery. In those days there really wasn’t a lot of information to be had about my newly chosen
profession. No one had even heard of the concept and there were very few reference materials available. I certainly felt like a pioneer.

In the beginning it seemed like I was flying by the seat of my pants more often than not, mixed in with a healthy dose of trial and error. It worked, but it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there.

There is no question that I’ve “Seen the Elephant” on the way… I nearly saw the elephant’s tail a couple of times along the way – but I made it – and what a ride!

Many of us in business today are searching for the preferred lifestyle that comes with “seeing the elephant.” But it’s never an easy task, is it? There will definitely be some hurdles. But if there weren’t any obstacles there wouldn’t be any growth. And not everyone will make it, but those who are persistent will succeed.

Here are four important principles for claiming your dream of the lifestyle your new business can bring:

The first is to LEARN – Learn everything you possibly can about enforcing judgments – not only the concepts of marketing and the “basics” – but also the laws and statutes that govern your craft.

It’s funny that folks seem to have different expectations of the world of business than in the “real” world. In the “real” world laying out $100 bucks and getting rich is called winning the lottery. True success in any business is not a “get-rich-quick” proposition. There’s just no substitute for preparation!

The second is ACTION – It takes action and real initiative to begin a judgment recovery
business. But it takes a tremendous amount of continuing action to follow through.

Many people will purchase business programs hoping to “see the elephant.” Then they quite literally never look at those materials that could change their lives! Still others will start and give up in 30 to 60 days, when they reach their first hurdle.

Rather than giving up at your first hurdle, or even your 100th, I ask you to consider this
challenge: establish some realistic goals and then take whatever action is going to be required to reach those goals.

This is necessary for both new business owners and those who’ve been around for years. Even if you don’t get EXACTLY what you want, you’ll at the very least get closer to it.

I’ll tell you a true story… Back when I had more time on my hands than business to deal with, I set some goals. Some were realistic, but others were a little over the top. One of the goals I set was to get the home I really wanted. There was this huge house, just being built, in one of the better neighborhoods in town.

It was beautiful. 5,000 square feet, a kitchen I could happily die in, beautiful views of the
mountains… It was only $750,000 (!!!)… but that’s where I wanted to hang my hat. I got a realtor’s print out of the house and stuck it on my office wall – where I could drool over it every day and imagine myself living there.

Time passed, and as it happened I outgrew the house I was living in. I bought a truly wonderful house, and it met all of my needs, though it wasn’t my dream house on the wall. One day, while I was enjoying my deck and looking out over the meadow and creek that ran through the backyard, I happened to look up the hill – and lo and behold – I could just see my ‘dream house’ through the trees.

I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but I got what I needed – and so can you.

I want you to examine your long-term goal. Do you have one? What is your short-term goal? So how much money do you plan to make over the next 3 months? After really thinking about it, write down a realistic number and put it someplace where you’ll see it every day.

Do you hope to replace your existing income? When? In twelve months? Eighteen months? Are you trying to break out of a rut you’ve found yourself in? When will you see the elephant?

Write it down and stick it on your refrigerator. Set ANY goal for yourself and refresh that goal in your mind at least once a day. Then, give SOME time EACH day toward making your goal a reality.

The third principle is FOCUS  – This is going to be one of the most important factors of your success. FOCUS on one step at a time. It’s just as impossible to walk from here to Hong Kong in a day as it is to accomplish everything all at once. Trying to do too much too soon is a recipe for frustration and ultimately disaster.

Work on one or two aspects of your business at a time. Pick one or two topics or methods and work at them until you KNOW them. Put 50% of each month’s earnings back into your business. Your business will grow!

Finally, you need to EXPAND – Expand yourself by exposure to good ideas that will enable you to grow. Without forgetting how important it is to stay focused, don’t be afraid to spend money on quality resources and tools for your business.

Subscribe to business and marketing newsletters. Buy publications that are specific to your industry. Continue your education. The knowledge you’d gain and implement is worth any number of times the original cost and will pay for itself many times over.

Pioneers of the Old West set out knowing only that they were going west to seek a new way of life, and hopefully realize their fortunes. At some point, they must have reached a place where they could see high and seemingly impassable mountains in the distance.

Those mountains became the new focal point. The daily grind and the harsh reality of living from the back of a wagon was carried out with those mountains slowly coming in to view. The goal would be realized, no matter what. They would “see the elephant.” Failure was simply not an option! This is the attitude it’s going to take to make it in a business.

So. What it comes down to is this: Where do you want your business to take you? It’s not going to happen all by itself…

Are you going to “see the elephant” or just the elephant’s tail?

Warm Regards,


Marketing a Judgment Recovery Business

Ask anyone who’s ever been involved with a business before, and they’ll tell you that marketing is the life’s blood of a successful business. It’s no less important with a judgment recovery business.

Initially, most of your new potential customers will be obtained by researching civil case files. Civil case files are public record and available from any courthouse. These files will show you who has been awarded a judgment, how much it was, and will also provide you the contact information you’ll need to reach the judgment owner. Many areas even offer free online access to these files (more on that later).

Once you’ve identified which judgment holders will benefit from your service you’ll send them a personalized letter that includes specific information about their judgment. This is a highly targeted way to market, and definitely not a ‘shotgun’ approach. My research shows that contacting a judgment holder directly by far generates the best response and marketing results.

You should typically plan on spending about 2-3 hours, once a week to conduct this type of research at the courthouse. This will also familiarze you with the contents of a case file, as well as what your state’s legal forms look like and what their functions are.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to civil case file information online, then time spent physically at the courthouse to research your judgment leads may be unnecessary, or at least limited. Some states offer online access statewide, while others only offer access in certain counties or cities.

Each state and/or county generally has a different set up for accessing these files. The quality of the information that you are able to obtain online will vary from site to site. Some sites only provide minimal information, while others go so far as to scan every document ever filed into the system for viewing. Most offer free access, while a handful may charge a nominal fee.

If you’re finding basic information about the cases online, but not getting enough information to send a letter (ie: no contact information), you’ll want to use the online database to at least narrow down your prospects. It will still save you time to go through the cases online and make a list of cases for the court clerk to pull for your review at the courthouse.

If there is no online access available in your immediate area, and weekly visits to the courthouse prove to be impossible, there is certainly no reason you couldn’t research judgments awarded in another area. SJR’s judgment recovery training program includes an Online Access Guide that will provide you with links to all of the courts that provide access to civil case file information online in each state.

You’ll find that most courts will accept mailed or FAX’ed filings. Additionally, if you needed to, you could get in touch with another judgment recovery company participating on the SJR National Member Network or the SJR Member Email Forum in that area if you needed help or assistance with something.

Marketing directly to businesses is another good way to go, and a fantastic way to cater to a specific ‘niche.’ These days, for me personally, nearly all of my current judgments are assigned from either businesses I’ve developed a relationship with, or referrals from attorneys and paralegals in my area.

Some of these businesses include property managers, used car lots, contractors, pawn shops, jewelers, furniture stores, check cashing or payday advance companies, etc. Use your imagination! These – and other – types of businesses tend to sue in court on a regular basis and have many judgments to assign. Since they are constantly taking debtors to court, the judgments keep flowing in.

Joining your local Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations will put you in direct contact with a surprising number of individuals and companies needing your services. By participating in these local meetings and functions, you’ll also go a long way toward establishing your credibility. Speaking of local exposure, most smaller local newspapers will often showcase new businesses or publish a press release about your judgment recovery business – especially since it’s not your typical run of the mill business.

I haven’t brought up traditional advertising, simply because most who are just getting started are looking to cut costs as much as possible. Advertisements can be effective, but if you plan to advertise I wouldn’t solely rely on it to bring you new customers. If you do decide to run a simple ad, it should be in an area of general readership because most judgment holders don’t even realize they have any options for collecting their judgment – so they’re not actively looking for you.

This, of course, is simply a general overview of the marketing methods we use to attract new customers. Marketing will be crucial your business… and having a variety of different ways to make your services known will keep your bottom line healthy and help your business to grow.

As always, I welcome your questions, comments, or suggestions for any topics you’d like to see discussed here.

Warm Regards,