By Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace
The Arizona legislature is in session, which means many new laws are being considered.
One of these is designed to help people clear civil judgments. If adopted, House Bill 2151 would add new sections that apply both to the civil division of justice courts and to small claims courts.
Both new sections would grant the authority for a justice of the peace to deem a civil judgment to be satisfied under certain limited circumstances.
A Satisfaction of Judgment is a form that the plaintiff files with the court stating that the defendant has paid the judgment in full.
Problems that can arise: When the judgment has been paid but the plaintiff won’t file a Satisfaction of Judgment; Or when the defendant wants to pay the judgment, but can no longer locate the plaintiff (like when a different company now owns the apartment complex or a plaintiff has either died, etc.).
Without a Satisfaction of Judgment, it may be difficult for the defendant either to obtain good credit or to timely close on a house.
Although these problems are not necessarily widespread, for the people involved, it is an immediate crisis.
These problems may become more frequent because A.R.S. § 12-1612(E) was recently amended to allow judgments to be renewed and to be valid for 10 years. The previous period was five years.
As such, if a defendant wants to pay off a judgment that is nine-years-old, there is currently no mechanism for him to do so if the plaintiff died five years earlier.
A solution is to amend title 22 to allow justices of the peace (JP) to deem a judgment satisfied. Deem is an admittedly odd legal term that allows everyone to pretend something happened when it really did not. It creates a legal fiction, but a lawful one.
In short, even if the plaintiff did not file a Satisfaction of Judgment, a judge would have the authority to declare that the judgment is satisfied.
Because there will be different fact patterns, the proposed statute is flexible.
A JP can set these cases for a hearing, but would not be required to do so.
If the judgment has not been paid and the plaintiff cannot be located, a JP would have the option of having the defendant pay the amount due into the court. If the plaintiff remains missing, the amount would eventually be transferred to unclaimed property.
Judge Gerald Williams is the Justice of the Peace for the North Valley Justice Court. His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.