UPDATE Client Alert: New Law Overturns Requirement That Employers Use Attorneys to Answer Garnishments

On February 8, 2012, Governor Deal signed off on new legislation that will allow employers to execute and file garnishment answers without the involvement of an attorney.  The measure, SB 683, was proposed by the legislature in response to a September 12, 2011, Georgia Supreme Court ruling that businesses were required to enlist the assistance of a licensed Georgia attorney in order to file an Answer to a Summons of Garnishment.  The Court’s September 2011 ruling adopted an advisory opinion of the State Bar of Georgia that a non-lawyer employee answering a garnishment is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

The new legislation provides that any “authorized officer or employee” may respond to a garnishment summons and/or pay into court any funds or other property subject to garnishment.  The measure specifically provides that such action shall not constitute the unauthorized practice of law.  As such, a business may now use its own human resources personnel, payroll clerks, or other non-attorney staff to process Georgia garnishments.  The measure also permits businesses to deduct $50 or 10% of the amount paid into court, up to a total of $100, to recover attorney’s fees or expenses actually incurred in responding to garnishments.

The new law became be effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature.  As such, businesses will now have the option of using a Georgia-licensed attorney or authorized officer or employee to handle most Georgia garnishment matters. Default judgments and traverse actions or other claims filed in a court of record would still need to be handled by a Georgia-licensed attorney.

If you have any questions about this alert, please contact Anne-Marie Shipe.