Today is blog action day.
In the CNMI, what is supposed to happen according to our laws, is that once a person owes a debt and the court renders a judgment in the creditor's favor, then the creditor can execute on the judgment either by getting a writ of attachment of particular, identifiable, non-exempt property, or the court can enter an order in aid of judgment based on ability to pay.
If the debtor has non-exempt property to satisfy the debt, there are no problems. The real issues come up when the debtor doesn't have property or income to pay off the debt.
The court is supposed to fashion an order to pay based on a debtor's ability to pay, which, under our statutes, recognizes that people need to be able to keep whatever income is needed to support themselves and their family.
And in fact, there are debtors who do not have the ability to pay--either because they are unemployed, have jobs paying low wages, have large families to support, or face a combination of these factors.
What our Courts assume is that every person who works has the ability to pay, regardless of income and regardless of size of family and responsibilities of support. This directly undermines the Legislative balance of creditor and debtor rights and creates onerous orders for poor people to pay.
A legitimate debt does not cancel the law that protects a debtor's income for the purpose of supporting himself and his family. But it does in the eyes of the Courts.
And we need a climate change in the courts to recognize that debtors' rights exist, and some do not have the ability to pay.
Another issue, even more serious, is the repeated efforts by the court to order unemployed debtors to get work; and to make these orders under threat of jail. If an unemployed debtor doesn't go look for work to the court's satisfaction--usually 10 applications every reporting period, which could be a month or 2 or 3 (even if he's looked for work for years!), he will be put in jail for contempt.
You can read some good posts on MLSC's recent work trying to stop this practice at our DAY IN COURT blog.
It's all about climate change. It's about a change in attitude and mindset that recognizes the fundamental beauty of the U.S. Constitution's protections of liberty and freedom from involuntary servitude.
Should people be working? Yes. Should they look for jobs? Yes. But should the power of the state be used to enforce private interests and lock people up because they don't work? No.
Small encroachments lead to bigger encroachments. There is no good reason to be ordered to work to pay off creditors: this is debt bondage and it needs to be stopped.
We also need a better climate for employment that provides jobs, provides incentives to work, and balances human dignity and rights with economic gain and activity. Ordering people under threat of jail to go get jobs because they owe money won't take us in the right direction.
It's all about climate change.