Friday, December 30, 2005

Julian Businesses In Turmoil

SAN DIEGO -- It's a battle that's pitted a lawyer against a town's merchants. The dispute is over disability access in Julian.

At the Bell, Book and Candle Shop in Julian, business is brisk and owner Debbie Hickey couldn't be sadder.

"It's a bittersweet end," said Hickey.

The shop will close its doors next week. Ever since the October wildfires decimated local tourism, the shop's sales have been cut in half -- then the letters came.

She isn't alone. In all, 67 businesses got a letter from San Diego attorney Theodore Pinnock.

Pinnock, who uses a wheelchair, is threatening lawsuits over disability access -- a legal battle Hickey said she just couldn't afford.

"I don't have any fight in me. I've fought to stay in business for the last two years," said Hickey.

Her shop is the first casualty in a brewing war that's consumed a tranquil town full of historic buildings.

In the past months, some shop owners have started getting things up to code. Throughout Julian, disabled access signs are now the most popular in town. They are displayed prominently in storefronts. Most of the businesses named in the letters have banned together for a fight, 10News reported.

They must make the case they're compliant, versus a lawyer known for lawsuits against individual businesses.

Now, he's taking on an entire town, and shop owners worry about where he's going next.

"We just feel like we have to do all we can to stop him," said Pat Richardson, with Enrichments.

The gamble could be a costly one. Shopowners like Richardson said if they lose, money damages against them could also lead them to shut down.

While some shop owners have settled out of court, others vow to fight on.

Pinnock has responded with a class-action lawsuit. He was unreachable for comment with 10News.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pastor Accuses San Diego Of Discriminating Against Churches

Does the City of San Diego discriminate against churches? It does, according to a lawsuit filed by Pastor Christopher Chadwick of the Canyon Ridge Baptist Church. The Church has been renting space for Sunday services at the Kearny Mesa Recreation Center for 3 years. As reported in a story by Channel 10 News and confirmed in court documents, the City charges the Church rates that are as much as 22 times the rates charged to other nonprofit organizations. An initial review of the City's leasing practices indicates that these policies violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause.

The fees charged by the City are based strictly on the classification of the type of organization. Groups like the Girl Scouts and Little League clubs are classified as "advisory groups" and are charged little or no fees. Associations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Kiwanis are defined as "community groups" and pay slightly higher fees. "Private groups", which pay the highest fees, are defined as commercial or fundraising groups, or private schools and churches.

The most dramatic example of this fee structure can be seen in the fees charged for the use of the Auditorium/Gymnasium at the Kearny Mesa Recreation Center. As a "community group", Alcoholics Anonymous can rent the Auditorium/Gymnasium for as little as $1.88 per hour (based on a fee of $7.50 per meeting, up to 4 hours per meeting). As a "private group", a church must pay $41.50 per hour for the use of the same facility. By arbitrarily classifying a church as a "private group", the City is charging churches higher fees than other nonprofit groups in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The First Amendment does not allow government interference with religious beliefs and the Equal Protection Clause prohibits the government from discriminating against religious groups. There is no logical reason for the City of San Diego to charge higher fees just because the intended use of the facility is for church services. The City must reform its facility rental policies to make sure that all nonprofit groups are treated equally and fairly.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Death of a Julian Business

Media attention in Southern California has recently focused on threats by San Diego attorney Theodore A. Pinnock to sue the entire community of Julian, CA over alleged handicapped access violations. As result of economic hardships caused by the October 2003 fires and the ADA litigation threatened by Mr. Pinnock, the owner of the Julian Bell, Book & Candle Shoppe has decided to close her business on January 3, 2006.

Julian was hit hard by the fires of October 2003. Nearly one quarter of the local residents lost their homes and tourism has never fully recovered. With businesses already suffering, the combination of Mr. Pinnock's settlement demands, potential attorney fees and unknown costs of addressing the alleged ADA violations were simply too much to bear. Mr. Pinnock's threatened litigation was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" for the Julian Bell, Book & Candle Shoppe and possibly for other businesses in Julian. Business owners feel victimized and vulnerable.

This case is a shining example of the need to reform the Americans with Disabilities Act. The first step should be to require a notice alleged violations to the business owner and opportunity to voluntarily comply with the ADA. Individuals are encouraged to contact their legislators and help end ADA lawsuit abuse.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Predatory Lawsuits Exploit the ADA

In a recent article, I discussed reforming the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") because of a threat by San Diego attorney Theodore A. Pinnock to sue the entire community of Julian, CA over alleged handicapped access violations. Mr. Pinnock adopted a "pay me now, negotiate repairs later" posture in settlement discussions, causing some Julian businesses to consider shutting down.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob publishes a quarter newsletter for her constituents called The Jacob Journal. In May 2005, Supervisor Jacob published an excellent article on predatory ADA lawsuits. The residents of Julian are her constituents. I am forced to wonder if Mr. Pinnock targeted Julian in response to Supervisor Jacob's views on ADA lawsuits. The article is reproduced its entirety below:

Predatory Lawsuits Exploit the ADA

Gary Clasen was shocked. The small business owner from La Mesa spent upwards of $8,000 to make the building which houses his catering kitchen - which is closed to the general - public accessible for people with disabilities.

Gary thought he was doing the right thing when he got slapped with a lawsuit alleging that his building wasn't accessible to a woman in a wheelchair. The language of the suit was aggressive: we'll see you in court.

Gary wanted the opportunity to tell his side of the story. If he was at fault, he was willing to make changes. But, there was no interest in mediation and to get to court would have cost Gary upwards of $20,000. It was far cheaper to settle than to go to trial, and that'Â’s just what opportunistic lawyers behind the predatory lawsuit wanted.

Gary is one of hundreds of local victims of a scam that exploits the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for financial gain. The swindlers behind the scam aren't interested in ensuring that people with disabilities can enter, use and exit facilities with relative ease. Instead, the scammers are extorting business owners out of settlement dollars in exchange for dropping expensive legal cases. The practice demeans the ADA, hurts businesses, clogs the courts and must be stopped.

State Senator Chuck Poochigian has authored legislation that aims to crack down on predatory ADA lawsuits by giving business owners a reasonable window of time to come into compliance with the requirements of the law. It is a bill that is long overdue and the County of San Diego, at my request, is glad to back it.

Legal minds agree that the ADA is highly technical and contains thousands of mandatory requirements that can be ove rwhelming to a mom-and-pop business. The specifications for flush handles on toilets, hand rails and door knobs are exacting, often outlined down to the very last inch.

Some say that the stricter rules encourage business owners to adhere to the ADA. But, because of the complexity of the regulations, minor and unintentional violations are commonplace, say inspectors. Some experts estimate that less than two percent of public buildings are in compliance.

That California is one of only three states which allows people injured by ADA violations to sue for attorney's fees and punitive damages adds further confusion to the law. Unethical lawyers have learned to capitalize on this murky situation and take advantage of businesses fearful of lawsuits.

Recently, seven struggling businesses in the Spring Valley area were hit with ADA-related lawsuits on the very same day. Each suit was identical, filed about two minutes apart in in Superior Court, one of the defendants said.

Last year, an investigation by a local news team identified one lawyer who filed 340 ADA lawsuits in our region. Many of businesses named in the suit complained that the plaintiffs had never stepped foot in their shops or stores. One plaintiff admitted as much to reporters saying he'd never shopped at any of the businesses named in the suit.

Some people with disabilities aren't happy with the attention that questionable suit cause.

"I think people with disabilities have been perceived as sort of predatory, there to make a buck," Louis Frick, executive director of Access Center of San Diego told The San Diego Union-Tribune last year. "While certainly there are those people, it is not all the people."

Taking advantage of the ADA for financial gain is especially despicable because this important law is designed to ensure access and equality to all. Senator Poochigian's legislation (SB 855) would restore integrity to the ADA. It allows victims to sue for legitimate injuries and flagrant abuse. It stops schemers from shaking down businesses who are eager and willing to open their doors to everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mediate, Don't Litigate

What is mediation?

A confidential meeting between disputing parties and a trained, neutral mediator who guides a discussion of issues toward a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediators do not take sides or decide how a dispute should be resolved.

Why should you try mediation?

1. It works - 85% agreement rate.
2. It's satisfying - you control outcome.
3. It's cost effective - avoids expense of litagation.
4. It's fast - can be scheduled in 7-10 days.
5. It's convenient - sites in the community.
6. It's confidential - keeps disputes private.
7. It prevents disputes from escalating into violence.
8. It's flexible - can be used before, during, or after a case has been filed in court.
9. It's established - provided by the San Diego Mediation Center, the largest provider of alternative dispute resolution services in the San Diego region since 1983.
10. It's clear - You have nothing to lose.

Disputes that can be mediated
  • Neighborhood: noise, parking lifestyles
    Landlord/Tenant: rent, security deposits, repairs
  • Family: divorce and custody, parent/teen differences
  • Community Associations: governance, maintenance
  • Business: consumer complaints, employment issues
  • Real Estate: property lines, sales, leases
  • Other: personal injury, public policy
How to arrange a mediation

625 Broadway, Suite 1221
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 238-2400

Monday, December 12, 2005

Avoid Christmas Party Perils

By Kate Southam

Don't be fooled into letting your guard down at the office holiday bash. Have a great time but be careful not to rewrite the well worn phrase "tis the season to be jolly" to read "jolly embarrassed", "jolly reprimanded" or "jolly unemployed". Follow these tips and avoid the perils of the office Christmas party.

Just because the annual company bash is out of hours or even out of the office doesn't mean the rules of corporate behavior don't apply.

Alcohol has a funny way of making us lose our inhibitions and do things we regret. Getting into a verbal spat, locking lips with a colleague in full view of everyone, "dangerous dancing" and telling a manager or even a co worker what you really think of him or her is not smart.

Your company is legally obliged to provide a safe workplace even when throwing a party out of the office. The last thing they want is an injury claim because a drunken dancer gave a colleague a black eye. The office Christmas party has also given rise to many a sexual harassment claim as well.

On the other hand, don't even think about skipping the annual office bash. It's considered very poor form not to show up. Even if you only stay an hour, you must say "hi" to the boss and mingle with colleagues.

Also, read the signs. If the party is on a weeknight and the food is mostly high-fat carbohydrates like pizza, bread and dips then you're expected to put in a productive day at the office the next day nursing nothing more than a mild hangover.

Even if the party is on a Friday night, don't use the fact that you can sleep all day Saturday to throw caution to the wind and drink to excess at the office bash.

Have fun, bond with colleagues but leave the party before any damage is done - to you!Remember, dancing = good, wild crazy dancing = bad; being outgoing = good; becoming floorshow = bad.

Do NOT go for a "few drinks" before the party. Eat something and drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. Try to stay a drink or two behind everyone else.

Dress with caution. Plunging necklines, micro mini skirts, skin tight pants, outrageous or obscene tee shirts and other attention seeking wardrobe items might reveal more about you than anyone cares to know.

If you can't trust yourself not to get drunk, make a firm date with friends so you only spend enough time at the office party for two drinks.

If you feel yourself getting buzzed, avoid the boss, his executive assistant and other key managers. Circulate and talk to new people. Do not monopolize the boss, pitch an idea or ask for a pay rise.

Beware the "beer goggles". Remember the object of your new found desire after a few drinks and a bit of night lighting is the same person you did NOT find attractive for hundreds of office days under the full glare of the fluorescent light bulbs.

Resist the temptation to take a holiday or sick day after the party. It's good form to show up the next day.

Have fun and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!

Kate Southam
is the Editor of

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Much has been made in the media recently about whether or not there is a "culture war" regarding Christmas and Christianity. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who speak of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness". On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who see the use of terms like "Happy Holidays" as an extreme form of political correctness and an attempt to shove Christianity out of the public arena.

Consider the song "Here Comes Santa Claus". Written by Gene Autry, it contains a Christian message not often heard on the radio, in schools or on television. Until just a few weeks ago, I had never heard the last two stanzas (show in italics below below):

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus!
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer
are pulling on the reins.
Bells are ringing, children singing;
All is merry and bright.
Hang your stockings and say your prayers,
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus!
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
He's got a bag that is filled with toys
for the boys and girls again.
Hear those sleigh bells jingle jangle,
What a beautiful sight.
Jump in bed, cover up your head,
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus!
Right down Santa Claus Lane
He doesn't care if you're rich or poor
He loves you just the same
Santa Clause knows we're all God's Children
That makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus!
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
He’ll come around when the chimes ring out
That it’s Christmas morn again
Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So lets give thanks to the Lord above
That Santa Claus comes tonight!

There can be no question that retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sears and Target have changed their advertising in recent years to reflect this trend. There is a Christian holiday called Christmas when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and then there is an American holiday called Christmas that is about Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen and getting together with family and friends and having parades. Whether you celebrate the Christian version of Christmas or the American version of Christmas, it is still Christmas to the large majority of Americans.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Removing an Old Mechanic's Lien

Question: 10 months ago we purchased a new community home and we decided to refinance our mortgage. We found out that our home has a mechanic's lien on it. What can we do to get this lien off our house? It is holding up the loan officer's progress.

Answer: Although the builder and/or seller should take care of care of this, there is no guarantee that they will comply. If you contact the lien claimant and they won't voluntarily release the lien or reach a settlement, then you have several other options.

One option would be to purchase a mechanic's lien release bond. Once recorded, the mechanic's lien is automatically released and you would have clear title. Unfortunately, most bonding companies would require cash collateral in addition to the bond premium.

You can also file a petition with the court for removal of the lien. If the mechanic's lien is more than 90 days old and the lien claimant did not file a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien, the lien is null and void under Civil Code § 3144. If you prevail and the Court orders removal of the lien, the Court can also order the lien claimant to reimburse you for up to $2000 in attorney's fees. The Court must hold a hearing within 30 days of the filing date of the petition.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Newdow Files Suit to Take National Motto Off Currency

Michael Newdow, who has already filed a suit to take "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, is now suing to remove our national motto from our currency.

Newdow told the ACLU of Oklahoma that the national motto on U.S. currency is a violation of the separation of church and state. He is offended because he is an atheist. He wants to use the Federal courts to make his atheism the official religion of America.

Newdow filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which recently ruled that judges, not parents, have the final say in what will be taught school children concerning sex education. These same liberal judges supported Newdow and ruled that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. That suit was dismissed due to a technicality so Newdow sued again.

The 9th U.S. Circuit is expected to agree with Newdow. The case will then go to the U.S. Supreme Court for final action.

Help us secure one million signatures on the petition below to stop Newdow. Remember that only one person-Madalyn Murray O'Hair-was able to get prayer in schools banned. We must not allow one person-Newdow-to get our national motto removed from our currency by our silence.

During the last session of Congress, Representative Chip Pickering introduced a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to use and recite the motto and the Pledge of Allegiance. Your petition will encourage Rep. Pickering to re-introduce his constitutional amendment in the present session of Congress and send a message to the liberal judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit.

Please act quickly, and forward this to friends and family.



Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman American Family Association

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

California Increases Small Claims Dollar Limit to $7,500

California's Small Claims Court system was created to provide a cost-efficient means for resolving smaller disputes. Through the end of 2005, the maximum amount that a party may recover in Small Claims Court is $5,000. This creates a problem for a party with a claim in the amount of, say, $7,000. Filing a Small Claims Court lawsuit will allow the party to avoid attorneys' fees but the maximum recovery will be $5,000. On the other hand, a Superior Court lawsuit will require an initial expense of about $1,000 plus perhaps thousands of dollars more if the case is not quickly resolved.

On January 1, 2006, the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court will be increased to allow claimants to recover judgments of up to $7,500. However, the new law only applies to cases filed by individuals and does not apply small claims lawsuits filed by business entities such as corporations or LLCs. The new law provides for new training regulations for people who serve as judges in small claims lawsuits.

This increase still creates issues for a person or business with, say, a $9,000 claim, for the same reasons that currently affect a claim in the $7,500 range. However, the jurisdiction increase does dramatically help parties with claims in the $5,000 to $7,500 range.

There are a few steps that all businesses should take to empower them to recover debts without having to use the court system. For example, businesses should make sure that they have attorneys' fees provisions in their form contracts that allow them the ability to recover all or most of the attorneys' fees that they incur. Obviously, it is also important for businesses to make sure that their customers are signing a contract as part of any transaction.

If you have questions regarding the Small Claims Court procedure or if you would like to learn more about terms to include in your contracts used by your business, please feel free to contact us.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Reforming the Americans With Disabilities Act

San Diego attorney Theodore A. Pinnock is a self-styled disability rights lawyer who has filed nearly 2000 lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Mr. Pinnock recently demanded more that $200,000 from 67 businesses in the historic mining town of Julian, CA for alleged violations of the ADA. Mr. Pinnock apparently claims he visited Julian over a recent holiday weekend and found a number of properties that he believes do not provide a sufficient level of disabled access.

Passed in 1990, the ADA has helped ensure equal access to public and private facilities. In addition to calling for building standards to be user-friendly for disabled patrons, the federal law also allows individuals harmed by a violation to sue for monetary damages. California is one of only three states that also allows an injured party to recover extra monetary sums (attorneys' fees, punitive damages, etc.). Allegations of abuse of the ADA law, and the gross number of cases filed in courts, have skyrocketed in recent years.

Mr. Pinnock has engaged in case-by-case litigation of ADA lawsuits for years. Now Mr. Pinnock has embarked on what he is calling the "Julian Experiment", basically to test his theory that it is more efficient to sue an entire community rather than pursue individual violators of the ADA. Unfortunately, Mr. Pinnock's approach comes with a hefty price tag and no guarantee that business owners will be protected from future ADA lawsuits.

In Mr. Pinnock's latest settlement demand (which has now been removed from his website), he proposed that all 67 Julian business owners select one attorney to negotiate a settlement agreement on behalf of the entire community. Mr. Pinnock gave the business owners less than one day to select this attorney. Mr. Pinnock also gave each business owner until December 9, 2005 to pay him $900 and he has not even provided a specific list of ADA violations for each property. The money is payable now and the scope of the unknown repairs would be subject to further negotiation.

Julian was hit hard by the fires of October 2003. Nearly one quarter of the local residents lost their homes and tourism still suffers. Mr. Pinnock's hard deadlines will only inflict further economic hardship on Julian businesses and make it nearly impossible for the owners to get qualified legal advice before the deadlines pass.

The California legislature recently rejected a proposal to give property owners a 120-day window to correct violations before an ADA lawsuit could be filed. Mr. Pinnock's "take it or leave it" settlement tactics indicate the rejection of this legislation was premature. California and the federal government should act now to protect small business owners from abusive ADA lawsuits.

For more information on about how you can help the citizens of Julian, please contact us or the San Diego Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Talking Turkey About Employer Gifts - Nov-23-2005 - For many businesses, holiday gifts are a tradition. As with most gifts, some prefer tangible items, like turkeys or hams, other prefer things that can be used in the office, such as mouse pads, books or pens, while still others prefer cash because it is more versatile. There is another reason a company might prefer to give things like turkeys or mouse pads: taxes.

To the Internal Revenue Service, gifts such as turkeys and hams are nominal gifts having minimal dollar value meaning they fall under the de minimis fringe benefits rules. In other words, they can be given to employees without being included as part of employee wages that are subject to withholding and taxes, according to a statement from the National Association of Tax Professionals.

Click in the link below to read the full article:

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Simplify Tax Payments with Treasury’s EFTPS - Nov-22-2005 - Do your clients make tax payments? If so, the U.S. Department of the Treasury wants to talk to you about the benefits of paying taxes electronically.

Simplify is a national campaign launched to communicate to tax professionals and small businesses the benefits of paying taxes electronically using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment (EFTPS). EFTPS enables tax professionals, accountants, businesses and individuals to pay federal taxes electronically, including corporate, excise and employment taxes and 1040 quarterly estimated tax payments. EFTPS offers a variety of payment options including the Internet and a telephone voice response system, as well as other electronic solutions for tax preparation and planning firms of all sizes.

Click below the read the full article:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Consumer Bill of Rights for Credit Cards

We hold this truth to be self-evident - consumers have the right to fairness in lending. To secure this right, since biblical times, society has attempted to balance the unequal relationship between people who have money and people who need it. To guarantee a fair balance of power between borrowers and lenders, we establish this consumer bill of rights for credit cards.

1) Credit card companies may not unilaterally change the price, terms and conditions during the credit card agreement period. Revised pricing is prohibited and consumers are protected from rate increases on existing balances for any reason.

2) Accounting should be straightforward and fair to the consumer.

3) Credit card underwriting must consider the borrower’s ability to repay.

4) Binding arbitration is a violation of consumers’ rights to due process and is prohibited.

5) Fees must relate to the cost of providing credit services.

6) Interest rates may be priced according to risk, but must be conscionable.

7) Billing procedures must be fair with the benefit of doubt given to the consumer, i.e., accept the postmarked date as proof of on-time payments with no arbitrary cutoff time on the due date. The billing cycle must be consistent and preferably 30 days.

8) Minimum balance payments must be sufficient to reduce the principle and an explanation should be provided of how long and at what cost repayment of the existing balance will take if no further charges are made.

9) If the company approves charges above the credit limit, then an over limit penalty may not be charged without first granting the borrower an opportunity to lower the balance.

10) Consumers have a right to clear, simple and understandable explanation on the full cost, terms and conditions for credit cards.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

New California Legislation: Workplace Violence Safety Act

Under the California Workplace Violence Safety Act, employers may seek a temporary restraining order or injunction against anyone who poses a threat to the workplace, such as a disgruntled former employee or client, or the spouse of an employee who is a victim of domestic violence.

A workplace protective order protects not only the victim of the violence or threat of violence, but also the victim's co-workers. Under current law, after the protective order is obtained, the employer must serve the order on the perpetrator to ensure he or she has notice and therefore is subject to enforcement for violations of the order.

Workplace protective orders often are difficult for employers to serve, as the location of the perpetrator can be difficult to ascertain. California just recently adopted legislation to make this process easier. The new law requires law enforcement officers responding to the scene of reported unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence to provide the perpetrator with verbal notice of the protective order. The officer's verbal notice of the terms of the order constitutes service of the order and sufficient legal notice. Once verbal notice of the order has been given, the employer need only mail an endorsed copy of the restraining order to the individual within one day. This relaxation of the service requirements will make it less difficult for employers to protect employees from violence or the threat of violence.

If someone violates a restraining order under this law, the first conviction is punishable by a fien and up to one year in jail. Although a victim of harassment or domestic violence can obtain a restraining order on their own, an restraining order Workplace Violence Safety Act can also protect the victim and coworkers. Employers can proactively make the work place safer for the victim, clients and other employees.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

When Collectors Come Calling: Know Your Rights

Calls from a collection agency can certainly make an already unpleasant situation much worse. Here are four ways they're not allowed to harass you:

  • By calling you between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
  • By phoning you at the office.
  • By bothering your friends or relatives to try to collect your debt.
  • By being hostile or abusive.

If you encounter any of this behavior, tell the collector you'll be reporting the agency to the Better Business Bureau. Then do it.

About the Author: Jean Chatzky is the financial editor of NBC's Today Show. She writes regular columns in Money, Time, and USA Weekend. And now she's here to help you take control of your finances! Click here to view more of Jean's money tips

Friday, November 18, 2005

Homemaker Life Insurance

If you're a stay-at-home mom, don't assume that just because you don't "earn an income," you don't need life insurance. You do. But how much do you need?

Figure out what it would cost to replace the services you provide for your family. If you weren't around, how much would it cost to hire a person (or more likely, people) to care for the kids, transport them, do the grocery shopping, act as the family bookkeeper (if that's something you do), etc.? After you figure out how much that would cost each year, increase that number each year by 3 or 4 percent for inflation, and determine how many years you'd need such services. Perhaps until your youngest child is in junior high? Perhaps longer? Also, if your spouse thinks that he would reduce his working hours should something happen to you, you need to factor the need to replace that portion of his income into the equation, as well. The point is, not only are you of critical value emotionally to your family, you're of critical value financially—and you need insurance, too.

About the Author
: Jean Chatzky is the financial editor of NBC's Today Show. She writes regular columns in Money, Time, and USA Weekend. And now she's here to help you take control of your finances! Click
here to view more of Jean's money tips.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

San Diego Crime Statistics Revisited

The link above is to a an excellent story by Channel 10 News in San Diego on the underreporting of crime in San Diego, a subject previously discussed here. Click here to watch the actual video. In 2002, law sponsored by the California State Sheriffs' Association actually made it easier for police officers and sheriff deputies to ignore a citizen's arrest. If law enforcement fails to act on a citizen's arrest or fails to take a report of a crime, then it as though the crime never happened. It is not recorded in the official crime statistics for San Diego. Crime appears to be down when it actually is not.

In some recent cases, San Diego Police Officers have declined to take shoplifters into custody. In one extreme case, security from a local mall took a shoplifter who had taken more than $500 of merchandise into custody at the request of a store employee. Two SDPD officers later convinced the store manager to drop the charges and apologize. Police later decided to arrest the shoplifter several days later on outstanding arrest warrants.

A related problem is the issue of unserved warrants. No reasonable person would dispute that the San Diego Police Department is understaffed. San Diego needs more officers and it needs to pay them more, but it can also do more to prevent crime by using the resources it has. Law enforcement can prevent crime by enforcing outstanding felony and misdemeanor warrants. Warrants are for wanted fugitives. The courts have long since relegated failure to appear for "minor" matters to referrals to collection agencies. Warrants are for felonies and for dangerous misdemeanors.

There are currently 50,000 outstanding warrants in the City of San Diego. The SDPD warrant detail consists of 2 officers, which is not nearly enough. I wonder how much crime could be prevented if patrol officers were proactively searching for criminals with outstanding warrants.

About the Author:
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Can a Car Dealer Ask for More Money?

Question: I bought a new car about 1 month ago. Now the dealer says they made a mistake and they want me to put down another $3,500.00 and sign a new contract or return the car. What are my rights?

It really depends on the type of mistake the dealer made. The automobile sales contract specifies your and the dealership's rights and obligations under the agreement. Once the contract is signed, the dealer general rule is that the dealer cannot come back to you and demand more money from you and the dealer cannot back out fo the contract. Unless the dealer made a mistake that you were aware of, such as incorrect sales price, the dealer is probably stuck with the price that you agreed to pay.

In any contract dispute, you should be able to find an affordable attorney to review the contract to advise you of your rights before listening dealer. An informed consumer is an empowered consumer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Collection Agencies & Liens

Question: Can collection agencies or their attorneys put a lien on my vehicles or property on charges that I have disputed totaling $15,000?

In most cases, the answer is no. Unless you voluntarily grant the creditor a lien on your property, the collection agency must take you to court and get a judgment before it can put a lien in place.

If a collection agency threatened you with a lien, this may be a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). The FDCPA prohibits abusive practices by debt collectors. Under Section 808 of the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot legally threaten to take your property if they do not legally have the right to do so.

You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney' s fees also can be recovered. A group of people also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector' s net worth, whichever is less.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is a New Bankruptcy Crisis Looming?

While the new bankruptcy laws have received wide attention in the media, there is another potential crisis looming that my cause credit card holders to think twice about what they purchase on credit this Christmas. In response to new federal regulations, card companies over the next three months plan to raise the amount card holders must pay each month. In many cases, consumers might see their minimum payment nearly double.

The new minimums are designed to prevent consumers from being hobbled for decades by credit card debt. Many credit card holders do not realize that they will never pay off the debt by simply paying minimum payments.

It would take a consumer making only the minimum monthly payment nearly 30 years to pay off a $2,000 credit card balance at 18 percent interest. Total interest payments over that period would be about $5,000. Increasing the monthly payment from 2 percent to 4 percent of the outstanding balance will require only 10 years and $1,100 in financing costs to pay off the same amount.

In the long run, this will benefit consumers because they will pay off their credit card more quickly. In the short term, families that are barely making ends meet with minimum payments may be forced into credit counseling or even bankruptcy. The higher minimum payments must be implemented by the end of December 2005.

Under the new bankruptcy laws, most consumer debtors must obtain credit counseling before they may file for bankruptcy. If you are still unable to meet your obligations after credit counseling, you may be eligible for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. For some debtors that cannot meet the new minimum payment requirements, bankruptcy may be the only option.

The decision should not be taken only lightly and only after consultation with a qualified bankruptcy attorney. Please contact us for a free initial consultation if you need further assistance. We are a bankruptcy and debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fraud Tip: Change Perspectives

DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT...If there's a police car parked at the same corner when you drive to work every day, you slow down as you approach the corner, then speed up when you pass by. That's why cops move their cars around. So why do we 'park our cars to catch speeders' in the same spot every year? That is, why do we perform the same procedures every year? Want to protect yourself? You don't have to do more, just do different procedures. Mix it up to keep client off balance. It's not an effective control if the client knows how to avoid detection because you do the same thing every year.

Provided by Gary Zeune, CPA

Friday, November 04, 2005

“Open Enrollees” and "Wranglers”

The San Diego city management claims that they again have to "cut" the budget and there is just nothing that they can do about that.

Sound familiar?

Only the government can call an increase in annual expenditures a “cut.” And only the government can cost us more and give us less each year and then blame us for their management problems.

They don’t just blame us. They also punish us by cutting our services.

You never see them cutting overhead.

I give you solutions in this space in hopes that you will bend the ear of your favorite elected official one day soon.

Here are a couple hot ideas.

We have long since taken for granted that the “normal” way to hire police officers and fire fighters is to recruit for, fill, and then conduct the appropriate police or fire “academy.”

We may assume that somewhere there is an exalted facility, hoary with red-suspender tradition, the historic functioning of which essential to our well-being.

In the case of the Los Angeles Police Department, that is true.

But for most other cities and counties, the “academy” simply consists of a campus representative of the employing agency coordinating a focused series of community college courses. The college districts pay for those classes.

Providing a “platform” for vocational education, that is education that results in employability, is a major mission of the community college systems throughout the state.

Completing the requisite police or fire courses in the employment of and under the tutelage of city representative results in becoming a “rookie” police officer or firefighter.

While these students are in school, they are earning a salary, being covered by workers compensation and other insurance programs, and all the while accumulating equity in the retirement system.

This is all unnecessary. Since these are community college classes, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that they should not be “open” to enrollment by any citizen who would like to enter either of these careers.

Are there any other employment categories where the employer provides the basic education? None that I can think of. You don’t get hired by a hospital and then get sent to medical or nursing school.

You certainly don’t get to be an administrative analyst, as I was, and then sent to college to see if you can earn a degree.

No, everyone else is required to invest the time and demonstrate the basic aptitude, motivation, and qualifications before being considered for employment.

Is there a shortage of applicants warranting this special treatment? Nope, not at all.

If you ever happened to pass by the civic center when police or firefighter applications are being accepted, you would have seen the line of applicants that threaded through the entire complex.

Since there is no shortage of applicants, why don’t they go to school on their own time as we all had to?

After graduation, the city would have some idea of their competence. The agencies could require the academy graduates to intern in the police reserve program for experience and further evaluation.

Right now, the departments have to wait for a new academy before they can fill vacancies. Under this proposal, there would be a constant supply of rookies.

There is one hitch. Complete open enrollment is against the law. The city should seek the repeal of that law right away.

And while we are changing the training process, we should go all the way.

Why should fire fighters sleep on the job? It makes no sense. It can’t be good for the guys to be awakened to be rushed into the rigors of firefighting.

Scottsdale Arizona pioneered the notion of “wranglers.” During their academy (one academy) the potential wrangler is taught to be both a front-line police officer and a firefighter.

Over ninety percent of the time, the wrangler is a police patrol officer leaving fire engine maintenance and operation to the fire specialists at the station.

When a fire breaks out, the wrangler drives to the fire in his police, sorry, wrangler car, opens the trunk, dons his protective fire gear, and reports to the fire captain for duty. Usually, the wranglers beat the fire truck to the scene.

Only when the employee is promoted above the entry-level ranks must he or she choose fire or police as a career.

In the meantime, the wranglers put the life and death of their citizens ahead of their snooze time.

Nope, our city unions will never permit this. Much easier to close libraries and cut back on services…again.

About the Author: Larry Stirling is a retired judge of the San Diego Superior Court. Mr. Stirling has served on the San Diego City Council, State Assembly and State Senate. As a police operations analyst for the San Diego Police Department, Mr. Stirling was the creator of the first 9-1-1 system, the first computer aided dispatch system and the creator of the ARJIS system. As a member of the legislature, he was the chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Avoiding E-mail Scams

"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."—Benjamin Franklin

Add "e-mail scams" to Franklin's list. Fraudulent e-mails pop up with alarming regularity. Many claim to be from charities and target unsuspecting donors. Others purport to come from individuals charged with turning over a bequest or other large sum to charity. The first kind defrauds donors and damages the public trust's in the nonprofit sector; the second type bilks charitable organizations and can endanger their financial stability.

Click here to read the rest of the excellent article on how to identify and avoid email scams.

This article is provided by GuideStar is the registered trademark and operating name of Philanthropic Research, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity founded in 1994. PRI's mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice with information. PRI does business under the name "GuideStar" and operates the GuideStar Web site to deliver nonprofit information.

Does Your Company Have an Email Policy?

Does your company have an email policy? Did you even know there was such a thing? Well, there is, and if your company doesn’t have one you are not only risking the professional image of your firm, but also risking potential liability issues that may arise from the misuse of your company email system.

Having a published email policy accomplishes three objectives.

First, it teaches your employees how to use email in a professional manner. What’s that? You’ve never really given much thought about the emails your employees send out? Well, you should, because ill-composed and unprofessional emails not only reflect on the employee, but on you and your company, as well.

Chances are most of your employees don’t even spell check the emails they send to your customers and partners. Chances are even greater that they are sending other items through your company email system that may get you sued.

Consider this: if one of your male employees sends an email to a female employee that might be considered harassing in nature, you may be judged to be just as liable for damages when her attorney comes calling with harassment suit in hand.

Creating a company email policy also helps lay out the ground rules for personal use of company email. When an employee is on your clock, using your computer equipment, and your network, and your resources they should understand that personal emails should not be sent or received using the company email system.

This can be a hard rule to enforce, given that kids now email their moms at work after school and soccer coaches email everybody, but as a rule, personal use of the company email system should not be allowed.

An effective company email policy also helps cover your corporate backside against liability. Take the example above of the potential harassment suit caused by an insulting email. If your company has a clearly-stated email policy that details what is considered inappropriate, you can minimize the company’s liability by proving that employees were trained in the proper use of email.

If you can prove that employees knew that sending such emails were not acceptable under company policy, your liability can be greatly lessened.

Having a good email policy can also give you a competitive advantage over the competition. As email becomes the professional communication medium of choice, composing professional, thoughtful emails can truly put your company ahead of the pack.

I can tell you from experience that I have actually won contracts simply because the customer was impressed that I replied to his email quickly and professionally. In other words, I’ve made thousands of dollars just because I respond quickly and use a spellchecker. Is this a great country or what?

How do you create an email policy? If you have other existing policies in place, such as those that pertain to business communications, access to confidential materials, personal use of the telephone, sexual harassment, etc. you should be able to establish an email policy using the existing policies as guidelines.

If you need to start from scratch you can still write the policy yourself with a little time and research, however, many companies rely on professional consultants to do the job for them. When you realize the importance of an email policy and understand the ramifications of not having one, you’ll probably agree that its money well-spent.

An email policy doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out document. Most policies are no more than a few pages long, written in plain English that every employee can easily understand.

The key to the success of your company email policy lies in the training of your employees. You can’t just establish a policy and expect everyone to follow blindly. Once the policy is written it should be distributed to employees and can even become part of future employment contracts. Explain the policy to your employees and have them read and sign to signify that they understand and will adhere to the rules.

Many companies are now realizing the importance of email and are putting on training seminars that not only teach their employees how to stick to the policy, but how to compose and respond to emails, as well.

Here's to your success!

About the Author
: Tim Serves is the founder of, an online organization dedicated to the success of online and eBay entrepreneurs.

Related Links:

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

FTC Wins $10 Million Judgment Against Fraudulent Debt Collectors

Defendants Permanently Barred from Debt-Collection Activities

The Federal Trade Commission has won a $10.2 million judgment against a debt- collection operation, National Check Control, and its principals – the estimated amount of consumer injury they caused. The amount represents the largest judgment in FTC history for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In addition, a federal district court judge has permanently banned the defendants from engaging in debt collection in the future.

In a complaint filed in May 2003, the FTC alleged that the defendants violated the FDCPA by harassing and threatening consumers with claims that they owed money for checks returned for insufficient funds. The defendants made repeated phone calls, sent threatening letters, and falsely threatened that consumers could face civil or criminal charges if they did not pay the debts. The FTC alleged that, in many cases, the consumers did not owe the money, or owed far less than the defendants claimed. At that time, the court entered a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ assets.

In addition to the ban on debt-collection activities and the $10,204,445 judgment, the court has banned the defendants from violating the FDCPA in the future, including harassing consumers with repeated phone calls, obscene language, or threats of legal action; misrepresenting the amount a consumer owes; failing to notify consumers of their right to dispute the debt; and misrepresenting that the person contacting the consumer is a lawyer. The defendants are further barred from selling or transferring any consumer accounts. In order to satisfy the monetary judgment, the court ordered the defendants to turn over all of their assets. It is not yet clear how much money actually will be available for redress.

The final order for judgment and permanent injunction was entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on July 15, 2005.

The FTC received substantial assistance in pursuing this matter from Postal Inspectors from the North Jersey/Caribbean Division; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey; and the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. In addition, the FTC would like to thank the following states for their invaluable assistance in investigating this matter and bringing the complaint: Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia.

Copies of the final order are available from the FTC’s Web site at and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at . The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.


Claudia Bourne Farrell

Gregory A. Ashe or Seena Gressin
202-326-3719 or 202-326-2717

(FTC File No. X030068)
(Civil Action No. 03-2115 (JWB))

Come On Chief, Serve the Warrants!

Crime is too important to be left to the police.

That means that the city council needs to do a much better job of demanding that the chief of police run an effective department.

Every day you read about crime in the newspapers.

But what you see in the journal is a trickle compared to the flood of pain and bad news that flow through the 9-1-1 dispatch center every 24 hours.

I am not critical of the rank and file of police officers that patrol our streets. They do what management tells them or allows them to do.

Plus, as a former SDPD operations analyst, I have ridden along with them for endless hours and attended too many police-officer funerals to have other than the greatest respect for those officers who take their job seriously.

I am the council member who made sure that there is an appropriate memorial at the door of the council chambers for each and every city employee killed in the line of duty, most of which are police officers.

But I am critical of the management of the police department.

There are several very strong concerns. For example, why has the number of police officers increased under Chief Lansdowne and the percentage of crimes solved actually decreased.

According to SANDAG, in 2000, a mere 21 percent of crimes reported to the police were solved. By 2004, the rate had fallen steadily to 17 percent. When crimes are reported to the police, they should solve them more than 17 percent or even 21 percent of the time. Something is seriously wrong with the investigative functions of law enforcement in our city.

Even more bothersome to me as a former judge is the management's nearly complete indifference to the balance in outstanding arrest warrants.

When I repeatedly raised this issue as a judge, I was given a message by the chair of the county chiefs of police association. That message was "Back off!"

Here is the key point, which seems to be lost on the chief and his management.

Criminals commit crime. Criminals are, with very few exceptions, a known group with long criminal histories.

The best way to prevent crime is to arrest criminals. The very easiest way to arrest criminals is to serve arrest warrants.

The arrest warrant itself is probable cause to arrest any defendant, any time, anywhere. Why not do it?

There are around 50,000 arrest warrants outstanding in the City of San Diego this very moment. Fifty thousand!!!

An Army division numbers around 5,000 men. That means that there is the equivalent of ten Army divisions of criminals freely walking our city streets.

The chief did not know that number. In his May 26th response to my questions, he urged me to check with the sheriff if I wanted to know how many warrants were outstanding in San Diego.

If I were chief, I would know exactly how many wanted fugitives were stalking my city.

So what is the chief doing about them?

First, the chief says that the San Diego Police Department did indeed use warrants to arrest 8,019 fugitives in 2004. That sounds like a lot, but it is less than twenty percent of the total and works out to about one warrant for each officer every three months!

I wonder if they could step it up to arresting one fugitive each month next year, one each week the following year, and one each day the year after that.

The chief admits that he does not make the warrant balance a priority. He has never mentioned the problem of unserved warrants to the city council in his regular reports. And by the way, the city council does not ask.

The chief calls the service of warrants a "collateral function" of his department and points out that the sheriff"s department is supposed to be serving the warrants.

Chief, from Judge Stirling to you, the state law is that it is the duty of every sworn police officer in the state of California to serve arrest warrants.

The chief asserts that the police are busy doing more important things such as working with "the community" at community meetings. He does not know how many hours his officers sit around these meetings.

I have attended my fair share of community meetings. So, I can save the department a lot of time.

What the community wants is to not be victims of crime. They best way to accomplish that is to arrest criminals.

If the police department wants to "hear from the community", I suggest that the department do a better job of answering the 9-1-1 calls that flood into the headquarters.

First-rate rank and file police officers deserve first-rate management. They are not getting it.

About the Author: Larry Stirling is a retired judge of the San Diego Superior Court. Mr. Stirling has served on the San Diego City Council, State Assembly and State Senate. As a police operations analyst for the San Diego Police Department, Mr. Stirling was the creator of the first 9-1-1 system, the first computer aided dispatch system and the creator of the ARJIS system. As a member of the legislature, he was the chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Updated List of Authorized Bankruptcy Credit Counselors for San Diego County

In a recent article, I discussed the requirement that debtors with primarily consumer debt must obtain credit counseling prior to filing for bankruptcy. Debtors in San Diego County now may choose from 7 nonprofit agencies authorized to perform pre-bankruptcy credit counseling services for debtors. In many cases, the services may be provided via telephone or over the Internet. Here is the current list:

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta Inc.
100 Edgewood Avenue, Suite 1800
Atlanta, GA 30303
In Person (not available in all judicial districts), Telephonic and Internet

Consumer Credit Counselors of Kern County
5300 Lennox Avenue, Suite 200
Bakersfield, CA 93309
In Person, Telephonic, and Internet

Consumer Credit Counselors of Orange County
1920 Old Dustin Avenue
Santa Ann, CA 92705
In Person and Telephonic

Credit Counseling Centers of America
9330 LBJ Freeway, Suite 900
Dallas, TX 75379-8039
In Person (not available in all judicial districts), Telephonic and Internet

GreenPath, Inc.
38505 Country Club Drive, Suite 210
Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3429
In Person (not available in all judicial districts), and Telephonic

Money Management International Inc.
9009 West Loop South, 7th Floor
Houston, TX 77096-1719
In Person (not available in all judicial districts), Telephonic and Internet

Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management Inc.
4351 Latham Street
Riverside, CA 92501
In Person (not available in all judicial districts), Telephonic and Internet

Credit counseling is mandatory for most consumer debtors prior to filing for bankruptcy. This article is not an endorsement of any of the agencies listed above and is for informational purpose only. Please contact us if you need information on our debt relief services.

We are a bankruptcy and debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy. This publication is NOT INTENDED TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. Please consult with a licensed attorney if you require legal advice.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Bankruptcy And The Small Business Owner

By Dr. Taffy Wagner
Article Date: 2005-10-24

What effect will the new bankruptcy laws have on the small business owner?

Probably a more major effect than before. My husband and I both own small businesses. In the previous years, we have always had clients that paid on time. This is the first year that we have seen the economy really effect people.

Small business owners have to worry about whether their customers are going to pay. How do you know if your customers are going to pay? Whether you are a new small business owner or been around for a couple of years, this is still an issue that comes up. Here are a couple of suggestions that should help with the foundation of your business:

1) Initially when you meet with a client, you state up front the payment arrangements. This could be whether you are paid COD, upon completion of a job or within a certain amount of time.

2) Once you have completed the first job or two, see how the client pays.

a) Did they pay on time?

b) Did you have to send them a reminder invoice stating they were overdue?

c) Did you have to repeatedly call three or four times? Then when you got the check it was returned for non-sufficient funds?

d) Did the client make good on the non-sufficient funds check?

This could possibly happen to you. The idea is to get clients that pay on time and even ahead. If you have a client you have to remind every now and then, that is acceptable as long as they pay. However, if you have a client that pays you late and the check is not good, you want to be wary.

This last type of client is not a client you want to keep or get more of. Why? In our situation, the client came to us a second time with a crucial job and really needed help. The first check they gave us they made good on. We completed a job for them and we were assured we would be paid. Then when it was time to get paid, the client's phone number had been disconnected. We did some research and later found out t hat this particular client was being sued by the building management where they had their office. In the end we found out that they had filed bankruptcy.

Looking back at the situation, we knew the first time when we had problems getting paid that we should not continue to work with them. However, the second time we were trying to be nice and help them out of a situation. Now, we are out of the money for doing that client's job.

As a small business owner, you cannot afford to have many or any clients like this last client talked about, they will send your business into bankruptcy. Take the time to know and understand your clients. If you have to ask for references from other vendors they have used, by all means do that. Another alternative for a new client is to have them pay COD until they have established a history of paying their bills. You will not have to do this with every new client. However, if you believe there is going to be a problem based on conversations you have with the client, you might want to institute such a policy.

Your small business might well be your livelihood and you cannot afford not to be paid. It is important to establish your policy up front in terms of payment. Do not let this be something you think is understood without verbalizing it. If one company ends up having too many clients filing bankruptcy on them and not paying what is owed, that company could potentially end up in bankruptcy as well.

About the Author: Dr. Taffy Wagner is the author of Debt Dilemma. Debt Dilemma is her own personal story of how she got into debt and was able to get out without filing bankruptcy. She will be launching a national marketing campaign on October 18, 2005. View her website at for further details.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

$7.7 million to San Diego Business Owner in Eminent Domain Case

Jury gives man forced from store $7.7 million The San Diego Union-Tribune

The link above is to a disturbing story about how the City of San Diego abused the eminent domain process to take a man's business for the "public purpose" of allowing a private developer to build a hotel. Ahmed Mesdaq bought a downtown warehouse and spend $2.5 million to open his Gran Havana Cigar and Coffee Lounge. The City of San Diego decided that this property was "blighted" and used its power of eminent domain to take the property, which will be used to build a Marriott Renaissance Hotel.

"Eminent domain" - also called "condemnation" - is the power of local, state or federal government agencies to take private property for "public use" so long as the government pays "just compensation." The government can exercise its power of eminent domain even if the owner does not wish to sell his or her property. Traditional examples of "public uses" for which the government might exercise its power of eminent domain include such things as schools, roads, libraries, police stations, fire stations and similar public uses.

In recent years, however, courts have allowed a much broader definition of the term "public use" to include nearly any type of public benefit such as "economic development" for projects that might generate tax revenue for local governments. In some cases, the developer of a proposed project will refuse to pay the seller's price and the local government entity that supports the project will step in and try to impose a lower sale price on the owner through the eminent domain process.

Mr. Mesdaq fought for two years to keep his business, but the struggle proved too much. In the end, Mr. Mesdaq hired San Diego attorney Vincent J. Bartolotta, Jr. to take the matter to trial to decide how much compensation should be awarded for the value of the business and the building. The jury awarded Mr. Mesdaq $7.7 million, which was 256% higher than the $3 million offered by the City of San Diego.

In 2006, California voters may get the opportunity to correct these abuses by local government. Sen. Tom McClintock is proposing a ballot measure to add a constitutional amendment that would protect Californians from seizure of private property through eminent domain. The amendment would require that the government either continue owning the property it seizes or guarantee the public the legal right to use the property. The amendment also would require any property seized to be restored to the original owner or rightful successor if the government ceases to use it for the purpose of the eminent domain action. Voters are strongly encouraged to contact their legislators to encourage them to support reform legislation to prevent any further abuse of the eminent domain process by local governments.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Measuring Non-Profit Performance -- Self-Review & Charity Monitors - 21 Oct 2005 - Oct-21-2005 - Member charities of the United Way of the Coastal Empire (Georgia) are receiving visits from volunteer internal inspectors during their fall campaigns, reports. Denise Oberlin, an inspector, accompanied Patti Lyons on a food delivery for Senior Citizen’s Inc. and was told that three out of four of the people served by the Agency were below the poverty level. Lyons also told Ms. Oberlin that there were additional needy seniors in the area that the Agency couldn’t serve because they didn’t have enough money.

Ms. Oberlin was one of the 100 charity inspectors the United Way of the Coastal Empire has trained to make sure that the agencies receiving money from United Way are spending it effectively. Reviewers are trained in evaluating nonprofits and sent out in teams to visit the 38 member charities of the regional United Way.

Click in the link below to read the full article:

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Disasters Reveal Weaknesses in SBA Loan Programs - 21 Oct 2005 - Oct-21-2005 - The Small Business Administration (SBA) released figures on its post-9/11 disaster lending program showing that $245 million of the total $1.2 billion lent is currently in default, representing a 20.4 percent default rate. More than 10,000 companies approved for SBA direct loans received a two-year grace period, between 2001 and 2003, to start making payments and now these defaulted loans are coming to light according to the Associated Press. Another SBA loan program, the Supplemental Terrorist Activity Relief program experienced a 5 percent default rate on $3.7 billion lent.

Click below to read the full story:

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New state law could crimp fax practices

Unsolicited faxes, like unwanted phone calls and spam e-mail before them, have been the target of federal regulations. And now California is weighing in on the fax debate, applying even tougher restrictions to facsimile distribution in a bill recently signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new state legislation, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2006, prohibits a person or entity from sending an advertisement to a fax machine without the recipient's express consent, even when the fax is sent to an existing customer.

Contact us for more information.

Fraud Tip: Notarized Is No Guarantee

Have you ever accepted a notarized statement or proof of identity as the basis for establishing an account or beginning a financial relationship with an individual or organization? Do you know that numerous rubber stamp companies will make up a notary stamp for anyone with a copy of the stamp for them to work from? Usually the cost is about fifteen dollars! Instead of a notarized copy or statement, ask for a reference from another know financial institution that you can verify directly with that institution. A notary stamp is worth about as much as the paper it is printed on!

John Kammin was a professional identity thief and now assists law enforcement and banks regarding how to protect themselves. For more information see

Friday, October 21, 2005

IRS Grants Tax Favored Treatment for Early Distribution of Retirement Funds

Taxpayers who suffered losses resulting from Hurricane Katrina are being advised by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to be aware of recent changes in tax law providing for tax-favored withdrawals, reconstitutions and loans from certain retirement plans.

Click below for more information:

FICA Taxes Increase for Some in 2006

Highly paid wage earners will notice a moderate increase in the wage base on which Social Security taxes are due in 2006 according to a statement from CCH Incorporated. An estimated 11.3 million workers will be affected by the wage base increase.

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Social Security Increase Runs Short

The Social Security Administration announced a 4.1 percent cost of living adjustment for more than 52 million retired and disabled recipients last week. Checks will increase an average of $39 starting in January. This is the largest increase since the 5.4 percent advance in 1991. Last year's increase was 2.7 percent.

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Deductions for Casualty Losses Offer Big Tax Benefits to Katrina Victims

Katrina victims who claim personal or business casualty losses may be entitled to large refunds on their original 2004 and 2005 returns or by filing an amended 2004 return.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Schwarzenegger Vetoes Minimum Wage Bill

On September 29, 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Assembly Bill 48 which would have raised the minimum wage in California to $7.75. This bill would have increased the minimum wage to $7.25 effective July 1, 2006 and to $7.75 effective July 1, 2007. Beginning January 1, 2008 and each January 1 thereafter, the minimum wage would have been automatically adjusted to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

In his veto message to the legislature, Gov. Schwarzenegger expressed support for increasing the minimum wage. However, he also stated that automatic increases to adjust for inflation failed to "account for changes in the economy which could have deleterious effects on the economic health of the state." Gov. Schwarzenegger also called the automatic increases an abdication of the legislature's duty "to consider all of the impacts each increase to the wage will have on workers and businesses."

I agree with Gov. Schwarzenegger's sentiments on the issue of automatic increases. The vast majority of economists believe the minimum wage law already costs the economy thousands of jobs. When you force American companies to pay a certain wage, you increase the likelihood that those companies will outsource jobs to foreign workers, where labor is much cheaper. Non-profit charitable organizations are hurt by the minimum wage. Increasing the minimum wage can drive some small companies out of business.

While vetoing the minimum wage law may seem heartless to some, it will likely preserve the jobs of many who might have been put out of work had the law passed.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.