Collecting Judgments

I’m not a collections lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, but I’ve known enough of them to be acutely aware of the complexity and problems of getting the money awarded by the jury. Large damage awards are often reported without much comment about the fact that the plaintiff now holds a piece of paper. Converting that paper into money is a separate issue. When the defendant is covered by insurance, collections are easy. Otherwise, they can be difficult. Often, very difficult. You can’t get blood from a rock, for example.

But this is the day upon which Trump must either bond the award to the State of New York or Tish James gets to start to collect the judgment by fiat. There may be restraining notices sent to banks and other financial entities that will freeze Trump accounts. There may be an application for orders from the court to seize assets. There may be post-judgment discovery demands to ascertain assets and, in this particular case, identify the ownership of assets. It’s not at all clear that buildings with the name “Trump” on them are owned by Trump, or to what extent.

No, none of this has anything to do with the right to appeal, which exists independently and can be pursued regardless of collections. Should the verdict be reversed on appeal, the State will be required to return whatever it has collected.

But what if the State seizes and sells New York’s tackiest building? How will they return it to Trump should he win on appeal? They can’t and they won’t. The State will return whatever the proceeds of the sale were, and that’s the best they can do. If it’s unfair, then it’s unfair for all judgment debtors who don’t bond the judgment. That’s the law, fair or not.

Trump says he’s got “significantly” more than $500 million in his pocket, enough to cover the collateral requirement of the bond. Of course, he’s not under oath when he says this, as if that means much to him. And he hasn’t proven it to be true, not that he’s required to prove anything to us groundlings. But if true, then perhaps the choice is his. The claim that this bond is bigger than anything the insurance companies who provide bonds have seen is simply nonsense. It’s not. The insurance companies that bond aren’t in the business of getting burned, and none will provide a bond without liquid collateral. They aren’t in the business of owning, managing or selling buildings, particularly when future value is in flux.

But if Trump has the cash, problem solved, right? Except Trump says he planned to use that half bil for his campaign, which would be amazing given that he hasn’t put a dime into his campaign or Melania’s clothing supply since 2016. That, dear unduly passionate Trump supporters, is why you exist, to fund his universe and buy NFTs of Trump with muscles instead of belly fat typical of men of a certain age.

Even if no bond is posted today, New York Attorney General Tish James will not post state police at the entrance of the Trump New York State Tower. It doesn’t work that way, and won’t happen for quite a while if at all. The more interesting play will be the restraining notices to financial institutions essentially freezing accounts so that checks bounce and payments go unmade.

Then again, at least there is always the RNC, now that Lara Trump is in charge and Ronna  Romney McDaniel will provide color commentary on MSNBC. A guy could live pretty well off the Republican National Committee for quite a while as long as people keep believing he’s so weak that he’s a perpetual victim, as opposed to a guy who does what he does and, well, finds out. It’s not as if his lawyers didn’t tell him that this could happen.

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