Staying Paid

This past Friday, a friend who I hadn’t heard from in a few years called me in the late afternoon to ask whether he’d see me in court on Tuesday and, by the way, would I mind sharing the phone number of my lawyer? I had to ask him what he was talking about.

It turned out that I was being sued by Robert L. Geltzer, trustee for the bankrupt estate of University Business LLC, the company that once owned Lingua Franca, a magazine I wrote for. I had never received a summons, and I had a hazy notion, from watching television, that this meant I didn’t have to show up in court. On the other hand, now that my friend had called, I did know about it. On the third hand, it was extremely short notice.

Here’s the background: Before Lingua Franca and its sibling University Business declared bankruptcy in April 2002, the magazines paid me and several dozen other freelancers a portion of what we were owed. (In my case, it was the last dribble of payment for an article I wrote on the evolutionary psychologist Ellen Dissanayake.) Geltzer is suing to get this money back.

I spent the weekend in a low-level panic, calling friends. On Monday I called the courthouse, where someone in the Records department confirmed that I was being sued. At the end of the day I still didn’t know where I stood. More or less at wit’s end, I called Geltzer’s office and let them know that I had never received a summons. Someone named Mark Bruh claimed it had been sent by plain old mail to an address where I no longer live. He promised to send a new one to my current address and not to seek a default judgment against me. Unexpectedly, to legally clueless me, I had won a little time.

So I didn’t go to court on Tuesday. I still haven’t received a summons or obtained any formal legal advice. But according to friends who did have time to put together a response to Geltzer’s suit and did attend the pre-trial conference on Tuesday, the judge took a dim view of Geltzer’s efforts to collect from small creditors who had merely been paid for work they had done. Other freelancers being sued by Geltzer should know that the Authors Guild may be able to offer some legal assistance; their number is 212-563-5904.

UPDATE (1/12/04): The New York Times has run an article on the lawsuits.

FURTHER UPDATE (1/14/04): The Village Voice has also run an article on the suits.