On-camera judges preside over some of the wackiest money battles. In their distinctly individual styles, each ferrets out the facts and rules on which party needs to assume financial liability. CreditCards.com talked to three of the top celebrity gavel-wielders, who reveal their most unforgettable credit and debt cases -- and give some free legal advice to boot.
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Judge David Young On the Judge David Young Show, which ran from 2007 to 2009, Judge David presided over his small claims courtroom with song and a campy sense of humor. But the financial case he recalls most vividly preceded the show, and is quite serious. It concerns a woman who was a trusted bookkeeper for more than 20 years in a family-run business.
"She was always included in all the family functions -- birthdays, weddings, sweet sixteens, funerals," says Judge David. "Little did they know, she was going to the local casino and racking up thousands of dollars of debt." The high roller financed her habit by applying for credit in her employers' names and withdrawing cash advances until the cards were maxed out.
For over a decade, this woman covered her tracks by writing herself checks and taking petty cash, but eventually a CPA was called to inspect the books. "The parents were getting on in years and needed to do a valuation of the company in order to sell it," says Judge David. When the two elderly owners discovered their close friend and employee had stolen over $500,000, they both had heart attacks and passed away.
Though the defendant admitted guilt, she blamed her gambling addiction and requested a probationary sentence. Judge David denied her such leniency. "I thought that the gravity of her crime and the consequences of it warranted her to serve 15 years in jail."
The lessons Judge David shares from this case are twofold: "When you get those solicitations for credit cards in the mail, rip them up immediately. It is very easy for someone to steal your identity and rack up a whole lot of debt. Secondly, even when you have someone who is 'like family,' always have a trained professional come in and look over your books."
Judge Karen "My most outrageous and poignant case involving credit card fraud involved an adult daughter who sued her mother for identity theft," says Judge Karen Mills-Francis, the stylish, compassionate star of Judge Karen's Court, and author of "Stay in Your Lane: Judge Karen's Guide to Living Your Best Life."
The woman used her daughter's personal information and Social Security number to obtain a cell phone, store charge cards and utility services. As for paying the bills, well, that never quite happened. The defaulted accounts appeared on the girl's credit report, causing her great hardship when she was just starting out in life. "Once the daughter reached age 18 and left home, she was unable to rent an apartment or buy an automobile because of the identity theft," says Judge Karen.
What made the story especially sad was that the mother denied the fraud and blamed her child instead. "Her position was that the daughter brought the 'bogus' lawsuit because the mother did not approve of her child's gay lifestyle," says Judge Karen, who didn't buy the excuse. "It took the testimony of the father to convince me that the mother was lying and had, in fact, stolen the identity of other family members to obtain credit."
What Judge Karen took away from the episode: "There is an alarming percentage of who have gotten credit using the Social Security numbers of their underaged children. And there is very little a minor can do about it. As adults, we need to avail ourselves of our right to obtain a free credit report annually. It is the best defense against the ever present threat of identity theft."
Judge Alex Alex Ferrer is the dapper, media-darling host of the Judge Alex Show, which is now in its sixth season. The most memorable case from his time on the televised bench concerns a couple of young women and a highly toxic substance. It wasn't a narcotic, though, but rather a back-alley plastic surgery procedure that led them to duke a debt out in court.
"There were two girlfriends, and one loaned money to the other so she could have butt fat injections," recalls Judge Alex. "Since I learned about it, I found out that people have died from it." Some of these cosmetic procedures, which enhance the shape and size of the buttocks, are both safer and legal. The type these girls pursued, however, was neither -- and that led to the final ruling of the case.
Problems erupted when the friend who borrowed the money became too frightened to go through with the shots, and backed out of the procedure. But instead of returning the money, she kept the cash. The generous friend was miffed and sued her pal.
When one clearly owes a debt to the other, the ruling should be pretty straightforward, right? Not necessarily. "I ruled in favor of the defendant," says Judge Alex. "She borrowed the cash, but I couldn't force her to repay. It was a bad loan because she [the lender] knew the money was for something illegal."
Judge Alex's suggestion: If you lend money to someone to do something that's against the law, either solve your own financial troubles or forget about it. Just don't expect help from the judicial system.
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