A Bergen County judge mistakenly let a collection company lawyer cover a gap in evidence against a credit-card holder by using a Wikipedia page, a state appeals court has ruled.
“[I]t is entirely possible for a party in litigation to alter a Wikipedia article, print the article and thereafter offer it in support of any given position,” the appeals justices wrote, referring to the “anyone can edit” online encyclopedia.
“Such a malleable source of information is inherently unreliable and clearly not one whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned,” they added.
In doing so, the appeals panel tossed out a collection judgment against Steven Graubard of $17,500.
Court papers show that a subsidiary of Palisades Collection bought Graubard’s delinquent Visa account debt from Chase Bank USA, along with several others, in 2005.
When they contacted him, Graubard disputed the claim, saying he never had the card.
During a bench trial before Bergen County Superior Judge Brian Martinotti, the agency’s lawyer needed to show step-by-step proof of how the obligation wound up in his company’s hands.
He was able to produce statements that showed an $18,000 balance transfer from a prior credit card to Bank One in 1999. He also had a 2003 Bank One statement showing a $522 payment on a $25,733 balance.
Martinotti allowed two additional items into evidence over the objections of Graubard’s lawyer, Ronald Groseibl of Fair Lawn.
One was a New York Times article, pulled from online, that reported a unit of Bank One, First U.S.A., had acquired Chevy Chase Bank’s credit card operations on Sept. 3, 1998.
The second item was a printout of a Wikipedia entry that said J.P. Morgan Chase acquired Bank One in 2004.
Martinotti was satisfied to the point that he affirmed the original $18,000 transfer, minus a $492 payment.
In reversing the decision, the appeals judges noted that Wikipedia carries a disclaimer that anyone can change, vandalize or alter a posting on the site.
They didn’t say anything about the Times piece, though.
Given the inability of Palisades lawyer to plug the evidence gap, which would be needed for a state Supreme Court appeal, it appears Graubard is home-free.
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