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“zombie debt” he said?

September 19, 2014

Yesterday in the New York Law Journal: “State Court Adopts Tighter Rules for Debt Collection” by Joel Stashenko:

Lippman said he was happy by the feedback the rules generated this spring and believes the final version is stronger for it. Lippman said the rules would lessen the problem of “zombie debt” collections—debts that remain before the courts even though, upon closer inspection, many are based on faulty documentation known as “robo-signings” or other flaws.

Did the Judge actually say “zombie debt“, this use of scare quotes without any fully quoted sentence makes me question if that’s Judge Lippman’s words or Stashenko’s (or earlier AP coverage, see below)?

Similarly in WSHU: “New York moves to protect troubled borrowers” by Charles Lane, in the photo-caption:

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proposes reforms to consumer debt cases in state courts with new filing requirements for collectors of so-called “zombie” debts.

judge lippman

There the quotes on just the zombie, and the picture looks like an old picture, consider the attire and background as compared to this picture used on this topic in May, see the Oneida Dispatch: “New York state Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman aims to bring fairness to consumer debt cases“, Albany Associated Press:

More than 100,000 consumer credit lawsuits are filed in state courts annually, most from third-party buyers of delinquent credit card debt that often includes so-called “zombie” debt that’s several years old, Lippman said.

That’s a nice room. Lots of zombies on the walls. The Judge clearly gave a speech but did he say “zombie”?

Also from last May, in The Daily Record: “Judge Lippmann takes on ‘zombie’ debts” by Denise M. Champagne and also in New York Law Journal “State Courts to Expand Protection From ‘Zombie Debts’” by Joel Stashenko:

Lippman said the age and dubious validity of some of the consumer debts in default actions have led them to be dubbed “zombie debts.”

It sure sounds like he said it, but what did he actually say?

I need better confirmation before I satirize the Chief Judge of my state with a zombie portrait. The New York Law Journal is a reputable source but I want a complete quote of this “zombie” in context.

Meanwhile the right Honorable Judge is also a zombie of another sort. Last year’s New York voter referendum on raising the judicial retirement age failed at the polls, so Judge Lippman must retire when he turns 70 years old in about 8 months. Recall from last year’s NYTimes: “Plan to Raise Judges’ Retirement Age to 80 Is Rejected” by James C. Mckinley Jr.:

An amendment to the New York State Constitution raising the mandatory retirement age to 80 for judges on the Supreme Court and on the Court of Appeals went down in defeat in a referendum on Tuesday, handing Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman a stinging rebuke.

Also, meanwhile, in today’s NBCNews: “The Charity That’s Taking on Debt Collectors” by Bob Sullivan (also available at

Lawyers from all over Missouri offer free advice, and even court appearances, to Samaritan Clients. Volunteer lawyer Tony DeWitt, also from Jefferson City, said he spends most of his time fighting a phenomenon called, “Zombie Debt” — debts that have been dismissed by judges or are no longer valid but end up leading to lawsuits anyway.

Zombie Debt, like the movie zombies, just won’t die, no matter how often you shoot it,” he said. “We’ve successfully defended clients against a St. Louis law firm … only to have to mount a second defense later against a Kansas City law firm. As long as the debt can be bought, sold and assigned, it can be sued upon.”

“There are legitimate debts, and it’s just and appropriate that companies try to collect on those,” DeFeo said. “But what you have in zombie collectors, (firms) frequently trying to collect on debt that’s no longer legally valid, and sometimes never was …people preying on the system, that’s where we get in.”

So there’s a lot of “he said” in this article but my read of this is that both DeWitt and DeFeo said the magic word (duck drops, they win zombie portraits):

zombie tony dewitt zombie lou defeo

… kicking the debt collectors in the teeth for free,” he said.

Good on them.

(note also, New York’s attorney mandatory pro bono policies instituted under Judge Lippman.)

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