“Mr. Beaver, after reading your articles about the couple whose neighbor’s tree fell, causing property damage and injuring their horse, I gave them to “Erin” to read. She is a local attorney and owns a rental next door to our home.
“There are several large trees on the property which our local power utility has warned are in danger of falling. Erin asked, because of her busy court schedule, if I would arrange for tree trimmers to come out and eliminate the danger, which is what I did, and, as requested paid the $2,500 charged. As we had agreed, I sent her the bill, expecting to be reimbursed immediately.
“Well, it has been months and I’ve still not received a cent. I have emails (which he sent to You and the Law) which fully document our agreement, her repeated promises in writing to get me a check, and now it’s 2018! What should I do? Pardon my sounding naive, but I thought that I could trust her because she is a lawyer. Thanks, Nick.”
What could Nick have learned about Erin’s bill-paying record?
We phoned Nick and asked, “Did you do any kind of background research on her before agreeing to front the tree trimming expenses? His expected reply was, “Research? You mean like if she has been sued before? Isn’t that information only available to a credit bureau?”
Going online together, my staff showed him how to get into his Superior Court’s database of civil and small claims lawsuits, which lists who has been sued and for what. This is available at no cost in most counties and is a quick way of learning if you are dealing with someone who has flake stamped on their forehead.
We found over 40 lawsuits filed against her, with outstanding judgments totaling thousands of dollars. And that was only in one California county. She has been sued for rent, credit card debt, cell phone bills, not paying her daughter’s wedding photographer, a private investigator who helped her win a major case, the list of people she stiffed went on page after page. You could just feel the hurt - the anger and pain she had dished out to so many trusting people.
“She’s a head case!”
We checked around, learning that even lawyers she hired to work in her firm had to take her to the Labor Board to be paid. One we spoke with put it this way, “She’s a head case - there is something mentally wrong with her. I’m surprised she hasn’t lost her license, as she is the very definition of fraud.”
When we ran the facts of this case by Dr. Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, he observed:
“This is more than old-fashioned dishonesty. Something is clearly going on. It is similar to chronic stealing - kleptomania - which is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Behavior. Stealing takes their attention away from other problems they are suffering from.
“Why do people such as this lawyer do these things? It’s to make themselves feel as if they are in control of their world. But it is self-destructive behavior, done in order to establish control, and the reaction – lawsuits and judgments - actually reduces control.
“Dennis, as you did with Nick, showing him how to use a court’s database in checking out the people he deals with, all of us need to minimize the chances of doing business with people who are demonstrably untrustworthy.”
What were Nick’s options at this stage?
Nick could send her emails until he was blue in the face and that would likely change little. He could file a suit in Small Claims Court, obtain the judgment and then discover the joys of attempting to collect.
“Can I file a police report, based on fraud?” he asked. He could always file the report, but neither law enforcement nor the District Attorney wants to be seen as a collection agency. He would likely hear, “This is a civil matter.”
But there was a much better plan. My evil twin grabbed the phone.
“I’m really glad you liked my article.”
“Hi, “Erin,” this is Dennis Beaver calling. I know you like my weekly column because Nick showed you the one about dangerous trees.”
“Well, Mr. Beaver, how can I help you?” she replied.
“Actually, it’s ‘how can I help you?’ I want to spell your name correctly in the story.”
“In what story?”
“In the one, I am writing about you not paying Nick.”
“WAIT! I will pay him today. I promise.”
“You have until 5 p.m..”
Nick texted a photo of Erin’s cashier’s check. It was 4:59 p.m.