How to use CCAP

Happy Halloween!

Either you have been sued or you think you’re about to be sued.  Maybe you lost paperwork.  Maybe you moved recently and paperwork has been sent to your old address.  Either way – what can you do to track the status of lawsuits?
If you’re being sued in Wisconsin, we’ve got a handy tool called CCAP.  Although a lot of people aren’t wild about CCAP because it’s readily-accessible public information about things most people find embarrassing – it’s an incredibly helpful tool to keep track of cases so you’re not missing out on any important deadlines.
The good news – for my bankruptcy clients – is that your bankruptcy case will not show up on CCAP.  Why?  Simple.  CCAP is for Wisconsin state court cases.  Bankruptcy cases are filed in federal court.
How do I use CCAP?
  1. Point your browser to https://wcca.wicourts.gov/
  2. You’ll need to read the agreement and hit the “I Agree” button to proceed.  You might also be prompted to pass a CAPTCHA test used to screen out data-mining robots.
Next, you’ll reach the simple search screen.  There is an advanced search option, too, but for most uses, the simple search will work just fine.  If you already know that a lawsuit has been filed against you and have the case number, the quickest way to get specific information about that case is to search by citation (see the blue circle in the screenshot below).  Simply select the county in which the lawsuit was filed from the drop down list, then type in the case number.
The format of each case number is the year the suit was filed (two or four digits), the case type (2 letters, usually CV or SC), and the serial number. You can leave out any hyphens and the first two digits of the year.  If the serial number has any leading zeros, you can omit those, too.  For example: 2016-CV-00001234 can be shortened to 16CV1234.
If you are checking to see IF a lawsuit has been filed against you, or if you just don’t know the case number, then search by your name (see the red circle in the screenshot above).  You might want to do multiple searches for alternate spellings of your name (e.g. Jon, John, Jonathan, Jonothon), common misspellings, maiden names, or other aliases you might have used.  If you have a common name, you might want to add your middle initial to help minimize the number of search results.
You’ll get a results page that will look something like this.  You can click on any of the case numbers to get more detail about a case.  The results will be sorted by year, with the most recent cases appearing at the top (although they are not necessarily sorted in order of filing date within a single year).
How can using CCAP help me?
There is all sorts of information you can get from CCAP.  First – obviously – to find out what cases, if any, have been filed against you.
Once you find a case and click into it, you’ll see a screen that looks like this:
If you’ve recently moved and you’re not getting proper notices of the lawsuit, you can check CCAP to see which address they have listed for you (under PARTY DETAILS).  If they do not have your correct address, you can contact the clerk of courts and find out how to update your address so that you receive the notices you need to receive.
(This particular case was filed very recently and involves a John Doe defendant, so there are no addresses shown here.  Even if there were, I would have redacted them from the screenshot for privacy reasons.)
You can also get addresses and contact information for other parties to the lawsuit whom you may need to contact – including any attorneys who are representing the opposing party (again – not shown in this example).
The other most useful tool is FUTURE COURT ACTIVITY.  This is where you can find out about any scheduled hearings or other deadlines that you need to be aware of.
For example – let’s say you have a home in foreclosure.  A judgment was entered 6 months ago.  A Sheriff’s Sale is scheduled in about 2 weeks.  Since you have to be out by the Confirmation of Sale, you can use CCAP to watch for the scheduling of the Confirmation Hearing.  Once that is scheduled – it will give you a pretty good idea of when you need to be out in 99% of cases.

I lost my job. Should I file for bankruptcy now?

Timing when to file bankruptcy – particularly around a period of unemployment or changed employment status – can be tricky, and it really depends on what your goals are.
Let me give you a couple examples…
Let’s say you’re single person making $30,000 a year, struggling with credit card debt, and worried about wage garnishments.  If you suddenly lose your job, there’s no real reason to rush to file for bankruptcy while unemployed.  While unemployed, you’re essentially garnishment-proof (you don’t have any wages to have garnished).  In Wisconsin, if you qualify for state aid (BadgerCare or food stamps), you can protect yourself from wage garnishment for at least six months after you return to work – giving you ample time to get a bankruptcy case prepared and filed before the garnishment can kick back in.
Let’s take the same example, but instead of making $30,000 a year, you’re making $50,000 a year.  You’re still struggling with debt (remember that insolvency is not JUST about your income, but your debt to income ratio).  But because of your income, you’d be looking at a Chapter 13.  If you know that your job is in jeopardy (e.g. your company is going through a series of lay-offs), there may be a strategic advantage to waiting to file until you’ve lost your job and can qualify under Chapter 7.  This is something you’d consider if there were no other benefits that a Chapter 13 could confer upon you, and the likelihood of job loss was high and the likelihood of finding new employment soon after was low.
Now let’s say that you’re currently unemployed, and because of this, you have defaulted on your mortgage.  You really want to keep your house, and you think you’ll be employed again soon.  In this case, you’d need to wait until you found employment so that you can fund the Chapter 13 plan that would stop the foreclosure action and get you caught up on the mortgage arrears.
These are all over-simplified examples.  Even if you think one of these three describes you perfectly, there are all sorts of nuanced details that could change an attorney’s recommendation or advice.  The point is to make sure that you communicate your goals and wishes clearly with your attorney, and that you not only discuss your current employment status, but also any expected changes in employment status in the immediate future.

New 341 Hearing Location for Oshkosh Chapter 13s

Right on the heels of writing this post about why some hearings are held inside an airport conference room… we received news today that the hearing location would be moved effective January 2017.
Hearings next year will be held at:
Winnebago County Courthouse
415 Jackson St.
Room 500
Oshkosh, WI 54901
The CHANGE only affects people who are filing Chapter 13 and who reside in Winnebago, Outagamie, Fond Du Lac, Waupaca, Waushara, Green Lake, and Marquette Counties.  However, this means that all debtors filing for bankruptcy who reside in the aforementioned counties – both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 – will have their hearings at the Winnebago County Courthouse (just different room numbers).
The Oshkosh Chapter 13 calendar is typically the last Friday of the month.  Therefore, I will not update the map on this page until the end of 2016, since people with hearings in these final months of 2016 may still need directions to Wittman Regional Airport, and folks on the January 27th calendar will have plenty of time to check back for updated information on that page.
Hearings are typically scheduled about 4-6 weeks out.  If you reside in one of the counties listed above and are about to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, expect that your hearing will be at the Winnebago County Courthouse and NOT Wittman airport if you file your bankruptcy case toward the end of December 2016 or later.

Electronic Documents

Electronic documents are awesome.  They’re friendlier to the environment.  They’re cheaper than the cost of paper and ink / toner.  They’re easier to store and take up less space.
Over the past several years, I’ve embraced several methods to reduce physical paperwork in my office and switch over to electronic documents whenever possible – and I will continue to do so.
However, there are two types of documents that I frequently receive from clients that need to stop:

  1. Documents requiring your signature.  If I send you a document that needs to be signed, I need to have the original “wet” signature returned to me.  That means either mailing it back or dropping it off in person.  Unless you’re digitally signing a document using e-sign equipment in my office, all ink-signed documents should be returned to my office in actual paper and ink form.  Note – most documents do not require your signature.  I can take pay-stubs, tax returns, vehicle titles, real estate documents – all of this stuff electronically.  But any special forms, affidavits – anything that needs to be filed directly with the bankruptcy court and requiring your signature – those items I need to get the originals back on.
  2. Photographs of Documents.  Admittedly, this one isn’t so much a rule as it is an annoyance.  The image quality of most cell phone pictures of documents I receive is not very good, and the image is distorted if the document is folded at all.  Converting image files to PDFs that retain enough image quality to be readable by the Trustee is sometimes not possible.  And even when it is, it’s enough of a hassle as to not be worth it.  If you don’t have a scanner – that’s fine.  Bring the document in to my office and let me scan it.  There’s no charge for it, and I’ll have a clean, high quality image to send to the Trustee.