A bill collection agency paid $25 at a sheriff’s auction for Grover Marks’ legal standing in a $40 million Gypsy civil rights suit against the city and county of Spokane.
After making the purchase, Bonded Adjustment Co. sold it May 9 to the city for $3,163, public records show.
The odd development means that, in legal terms, the city now owns Marks’ interest in the case and is one of 28 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against itself.
“This looked like a smart thing to do,” Assistant City Attorney Rocco Treppiedi said Thursday.
The purchase, he said, was approved by City Manager Roger Crum and City Attorney James Sloane without a City Council vote.
Treppiedi said he believes the city has neutralized Grover Marks’ standing in the pending suit with the $3,163 purchase.
Marks angrily charged that the maneuver “is the latest dirty politics” in a 9-year-old legal fight that “is costing taxpayers millions.”
“Why don’t they just come out and shoot us and burn us down, like Waco?” Marks snapped. “Why don’t we just go to court and get this case over, once and for all? They’re cowards.”
His attorney, T. Glover Patterson, said he will go to court in an attempt to void the sheriff’s sale or an earlier default judgment against Grover Marks.
Marks’ standing in the lawsuit was auctioned at a sheriff’s sale April 21 because he had failed to pay an $891 bill in 1985 to Rockwood Clinic.
The Spokane medical clinic turned the delinquent bill over to Bonded Adjustment for collection in July 1986.
That was one month after police had raided the homes of Grover Marks and his son Jimmy Marks looking for stolen property.
The police raids were ruled illegal by the state Supreme Court. Grover Marks, Jimmy Marks, the Gypsy Church of the Northwest and 26 of its other members later filed the civil rights lawsuit.
The collection agency filed suit Sept. 7 against Grover Marks and his wife for the 1985 medical bill and won a default judgment in October.
Tamara Vervair, office manager for Bonded Adjustment, said federal credit law prohibits her from discussing why the agency waited nine years to file suit.
In most cases, a bill collection agency has six years after the last payment to bring a lawsuit. If a judgment is entered, the bill collector has 10 years to collect it, including garnisheeing wages or holding a sheriff’s sale of personal property.
Bill collection agencies seldom go after potential civil judgments and instead seize cars or other personal property for sale at a sheriff’s auction.
Vervair said she came up with the idea of selling Grover Marks’ legal standing in the civil rights suit as a way of collecting the default judgment. She said Marks and his attorneys were notified of the sale.
But when the sheriff’s sale was held April 21, no one showed up.
When no one submitted a bid, Bonded Adjustment President Jim Keenan bought the legal standing for $25.
Keenan then put out the word that he would sell it to the first buyer with $3,163, Vervair said.
Marks said he called Bonded Adjustment and thought he had the matter resolved. When he later attempted to make a payment, Marks said he was told his legal standing had been bought by the city.
“Why are the city and the Police Department running a billcollection business?” Marks asked. “I don’t think they can sell my legal rights, not for a bill.”
Treppiedi said Marks and his attorneys had plenty of time to take care of the matter before the default judgment and sheriff’s sale.
The sale of Marks’ interest in the suit isn’t the first time Bonded Adjustment and the city have done business.
The company won a two-year city contract in December that guarantees it half of all bad debts it collects for the city, including parking tickets, utility bills and bad checks.
The private attorney who represents the business, Cynthia McMullan, worked as an assistant city attorney about 15 years ago.
The civil rights lawsuit awaits trial in U.S. District Court in Yakima, while legal issues are being argued before a federal appellate court.