Q: What is a judgment debtor exam?
A: A judgment debtor exam is a court-ordered meeting between you and a creditor held after that creditor already has a judgment against you. At this post-judgment meeting, the creditor can ask you a wide variety of questions about your assets (e.g., cars, homes, job, bank accounts, etc.) and you must take an oath and give truthful answers. If the case against you is not over and there is no judgment, the creditor is not entitled to a judgment debtor exam. However, the creditor may have other ways of obtaining relevant information by using discovery methods permitted by the Ohio Civil Rules.
Q: Do I have to attend the judgment debtor exam?
A: Yes. Although the judgment debtor exam may seem pointless to you, especially if you do not have any assets and/or do not have the ability to pay the judgment, you must attend the judgment debtor exam. Because it is a court-ordered proceeding, you are required to show up, even if you do not have much to tell the creditor. If you cannot make the scheduled exam, try to contact the creditor’s lawyer to reschedule. If that does not work, contact the court and ask for a continuance. Failing to appear could lead to our arrest.
Q: What happens if I don’t attend the exam?
A: If you fail to show up, you may be summoned to appear before the judge and explain your reason for missing the scheduled exam. This is called a "show cause" hearing. Even worse, the judge might issue a “capias” letter (similar to a warrant) for your arrest. This means that if you are stopped by the police for any reason in the future, the warrant may show up in the police department’s system and you could be arrested and detained until the exam is completed. You could also be fined and held in contempt of court for failing to appear.
Q: What happens at the exam?
A: Usually, you will arrive at the courthouse at the scheduled time and meet briefly with the creditor’s attorney. After this introduction, you will take an oath and begin the examination. In most instances, the examination will be conducted in a private conference room. During the examination, the creditor’s attorney can ask you about anything related to your ability to pay the judgment. This includes questions about your bank accounts, job, house, cars, jewelry, tools, insurance policies, retirement savings and any other personal property. Keep in mind, if the judgment against you is solely for a personal debt, the creditor usually cannot ask you about business assets.
Q: Do I have to answer every question?
A: Yes, and you must abide by your oath to tell the truth during the exam. Just as you would not lie on the witness stand, you should not lie at a judgment debtor exam. If you are caught lying, you could be charged with criminal perjury. If you refuse to answer a question, you could be held in contempt. If you think that a question is improper, you can ask the magistrate to rule on the appropriateness of the question before you answer. Keep in mind, however, that the magistrate cannot give you legal advice.
Q: I am worried about my privacy. Will other people hear my answers?
A: No. Generally only you, the creditor/creditor’s attorney, and possibly a magistrate or judge will hear your answers. Also, your answers will not be part of the public record and the creditor is still subject to privacy laws regarding how your information may be used. Because this is a private meeting where your answers will not be shared with the public, do not be afraid to give accurate account information.
Q: Is there anything else I need to know?
A: As long as you are truthful with the creditor’s attorney, it should be a harmless process. You may even wish to use the judgment debtor exam meeting time to work out a payment plan with the creditor so you do not have to worry about an untimely or unexpected wage or bank garnishment. Most creditors are willing to work out a payment plan, and the worst they can do is say no.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Columbus attorney Mark A. Glumac of Bailey Cavalieri LLC.