Ask the County Law Librarian: Collecting on a Small Claims Judgment
Q. I am the Judgment Creditor in a small claims case. My judgment was by default. In lieu of a debtor’s examination I am planning to use interrogatories. Is my debtor entitled to a witness fee? Also, is a judgment debtor entitled to witness fees for coming to a debtor’s exam?
A. Good news! You will not need to pay the debtor any witness fees.
After plaintiffs win a judgment, they are on their own trying collect it from the defendants (now called the "debtors"). In order to find out what assets the debtor has, and where they are located, plaintiffs are entitled to do post-judgment discovery, including interrogatories and an in-person debtor’s examination.
The law authorizing post-judgment interrogatories does not require witness fees. (California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) section 708.020.) CCP § 708.020 also refers to the rules on pre-trial interrogatories. (CCP §§ 2030.010 and following.) Those sections do not require a witness fee, either.
A debtor’s examination also does not require a witness fee. Debtors’ examinations are covered by CCP § 708.110 through CCP § 708.205. While CCP § 708.120 provides that a third party who is examined is entitled to mileage, it makes no such provision for the debtor. (Generally, third-party witnesses are entitled to receive "ordinary witness fees" of $35.00 per day and $.20 per mile, round trip. Cal. Government Code § 68093.)
You mentioned that this was a small claims case. I’m curious whether the debtor sent you a Statement of Assets. In small claims cases, the debtor is automatically required to send you a “Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets” (Judicial Council Form SC-133) within 30 days of the Notice of Entry of Judgment. CCP § 116.830. You don’t mention whether the debtor did this, and I’m guessing not, since it covers the same questions you most likely would ask in your interrogatories – employment and pay information, bank accounts, real estate, and personal property. If you didn’t receive it, the debtor is technically already in contempt of court.
If you didn’t receive the Statement of Assets, there is a special form to use to set up a debtor’s examination after a small claims case: “Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination” (Judicial Council Form SC-134). (If you did receive it, but need more information, you would use an “Application and Order for Appearance and Examination,” Judicial Council Form EJ-125.) To get copies of documents such as pay stubs, you can use the “Small Claims Subpoena and Declaration” (Judicial Council Form SC-107) or a standard “Civil Subpoena Duces Tecum” (Judicial Council Form SUBP-002).
If you want more information about the examination or your other options, you may want to contact the free Small Claims Advisor at the courthouse. You can find out more about their free services by visiting the Sacramento County court’s Small Claims Court website. If your case is in another county, check the California Courts website for a link to your county’s advisors . For information on this and many more subjects, visit the Sacramento County Public Law Library, “Providing Free Public Access to Legal Information for over 100 years.”
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