Dear Crabby,

I can’t believe I’m actually writing to you but glad you’re there to give me some badly needed advice.

Our company is on the east coast and about one year ago we sent a claim for $25K to a collection attorney on the west coast, nearby the debtor. From the start the debtor not only disputed our claim with bogus reasons, but also countersued for $250K, asserting that our company unilaterally broke the contract and took away their market for representing our products. It’s all a bunch of unfounded maneuvering.

Although our original suit against the debtor has not been an expensive endeavor, the countersuit has resulted in us having to defend ourselves at $350 per hour. Not a cheap venture and with the costs adding up, it’s turning into a very cost ineffective situation. That said, since our president feels that the principle of the matter outweighs the financial gain of recovery, we’re in this until the end.

In pursuit of justice, the upcoming trial is next month, in which I’m the one who has to fly out all the way to the west coast and be a witness. As the credit and collection manager for the company, I’m very familiar with several aspects of the claim but as this is my first time to be a witness, I’m really anxious about what to expect. Your advice will be much appreciated.

Signed: Uncomfortable Witness

Dear Uncomfortable Witness,

As much as I appreciate your request for my advice, I hope it’s after you have already consulted with your attorney who’s representing you and that you’re just getting a second opinion. Being very clear that I’m not an attorney, and certainly no legal eagle, let me explain a few items based on my experience that “in general” a witness at a collection trial may want to consider.

First, be able to articulate all of the claim details. This means knowing the names, titles, and roles of all the sales, operation, and other employees at your company who were involved in the transaction. In addition, have detailed knowledge of the emails and other correspondence from the debtor that show promises to pay, acceptance of the goods, disputes if any, and all other communication to support your side.

Then, you and your attorney should be in agreement on how he will present your claim and what he intends to prove in court. Like all witnesses, you will be called to the witness stand, sworn in, questioned by your attorney, and then most likely be cross-examined by the other side.

Depending on what questions and answers you give to your attorney, the cross-examining attorney representing the debtor will ask you questions and be ready to explain that your customer accepted your terms, the product was received and approved without incident, and that you fulfilled all the obligations under your contract. Subsequently, your attorney may ask to redirect and then the other side may re-cross-examine you one more time.

When speaking about the claim, be yourself, be honest, and be natural. As they say, “just stick to the facts” and let the facts speak for themselves.

Hopefully at that point you will be excused and instructed not to talk to other witnesses before the case concludes. Note that if you’re in the right, your case will be made on its merits. However, if there are legitimate disputes against your claim, your attorney may want to reach out to the other side and start negotiating a settlement. This is especially important if you want to at least get something rather than nothing.

I hope the above helps. Please let me know how it works out.

Crabby

Dear Crabby is a credit and collection advice column by Nancy Seiverd President CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts (nseiverd@cmiweb.com) on what to advise are most welcome and with your permission we’ll reprint your comments in the next issue of our newsletter.

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