When the Georgia Supreme Court ruled late last year that companies were required to respond to a Georgia garnishments through an attorney licensed to practice in Georgia, many companies were caught off-guard. Until the Court’s decision, most companies’ payroll personnel simply made the garnishment calculations, withheld the appropriate amount from the garnishee’s check, and returned the money and a short garnishment answer to the issuing court. Retaining an attorney to answer and process would have seemed like overkill and an unnecessary expense.
The Supreme Court, however (and however reluctantly), made a technical interpretation of Georgia law. The Court ruled last September that, because a garnishment answer to a State or Superior Court is not distinguishable from any other legal action and corporations and other business entities may not represent themselves in legal actions (other than in magistrate court), any non-attorney who signed a garnishment answer had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Companies who processed their own garnishments after the ruling risked, among other penalties, having their garnishment answer stricken and rendering the company liable for the entire debt (that would have otherwise been garnished from the debtor).
Not surprisingly, the Georgia business community reacted disfavorably to the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, among other interest groups, quickly seized upon Justice David Nahmias’s invitation (in a concurring opinion) to seek a remedy from the Georgia General Assembly and change the law to allow non-attorneys to process routine garnishments. It didn’t take the Assembly long to take up the concerns.
Indeed, the State House of Representatives today passed by a 120 to 50 margin a bill that would reverse Court’s ruling and return the state of the law to what most folks thought it was in the first place. If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by Governor Deal (as is expected), companies will be able to, now legally, avoid the expense and hassle of retaining counsel for simple garnishment answers.
Hopefully common sense will prevail.