Consumer Practice Group

Our Team:

Gregory T. Armstrong, Practice Group Director

Peter Lin-Tsai, (LITC) Tax Clinic Director

Charles Appel, Bankruptcy Attorney

Barak Berlin, Consumer Staff Attorney II

Charles Appel, Bankruptcy Staff Attorney II

Nic Villa, Consumer Staff Attorney II

Erik Oh, Consumer Staff Attorney I

Melinda Escobar, Consumer Paralegal II

Uriel "Rudy" De La Torre, Tax Paralegal II

Anna Sanchez, Tax Staff Attorney I

Erica Illingworth, Consumer Legal Secretary

The consumer team includes specialized bankruptcy and tax staff. If you would like to learn more about our tax and bankruptcy services, click here


The Consumer Practice Group works to close the “Justice Gap” for low-income people in the Inland Empire.  The “Justice Gap” is the difference between the legal needs of low-income people and the resources needed to meet those needs.  

Most low-income people who get sued wind up with judgments because they can’t afford a lawyer to help them.  

The Consumer Practice Group may be able to help you for free by answering your lawsuit and force the debt collector to prove they own your debt.  If the debt collector can’t prove their case, we may be able to get your case settled or even dismissed. 

If you are low income and/or over 60 and you have been sued for one of these debts:   

  • Credit card,
  • Medical bills,
  • Student loan,
  • Identity theft,
  • Auto repossession,
  • and/or other consumer debts,
  • and/or if any of the above happened while you or a family member were on active duty.

Call us today at (888)245-4257 or apply online.

Don’t wait, you usually have 30 days to answer a lawsuit after you receive it.  

We may also be able to help you if:

  1. You are the victim of Financial Elder Abuse

  2. You received a HERO or PACE loan to fix your house and/or install solar panels and now you have a tax lien you can’t pay.




Table of Contents

  1. Consumer FAQ
  2. Debt Defense Clinic
  3. Tax and Bankruptcy Practice Group

Consumer FAQ

What is a Plaintiff? 

A plaintiff is the party who files the lawsuit. If a creditor or debt buyer files a lawsuit against you, the creditor or debt buyer is the plaintiff.

What is a Defendant? 

A defendant is the party who is sued by the plaintiff. If a creditor or debt buyer files a lawsuit against you, you are the defendant.

What is a Summons?

A Summons is your official notification that you have been sued. It tells you how and where to file your written response in order to defend the case. A Summons is usually accompanied by a Complaint.

What is a Complaint? 

A Complaint explains why you have been sued. It contains the facts and the legal claims that are the basis for the lawsuit. In debt collection cases, the Complaint is often very short and may provide very little information.

What is an Answer?

An Answer is an official written response to a Complaint. In your Answer, you must write all the defenses that you want to raise in the case.

What is a Cross-Complaint? 

A Cross-Complaint is a claim that you have against the plaintiff. The plaintiff may owe you money, or the plaintiff may have violated your rights or caused you some other kind of harm for which you want to recover money damages. You always have the right to file a Cross-Complaint against the plaintiff along with your Answer.

What should I do if I receive a Summons and Complaint? 

DO NOT IGNORE IT. You should always respond to a Summons and Complaint. The correct way to respond is to file an Answer in the clerk’s office at the address provided on the Summons. The clerk will not give you an Answer form and cannot help you to complete an Answer. For more detailed assistance filing your answer, contact one of our attorneys to obtain individualized advice about your case.

Is there a time limit for filing an Answer? 

Yes. If you were served with the Summons and Complaint in person, you must file your Answer within 30 DAYS. “In-person” means that a process server came to your home or place of business and gave the papers to you personally. If you were served with the Summons and Complaint in some other way, you have 40 DAYS to file your Answer.

What if the time for filing my Answer has already expired? 

You should try to file an Answer anyway. As long as there is no default entered against you, the court will usually accept a late Answer.

What should I write in my Answer? 

Your Answer should contain all the defenses that you want to raise in your case.

If you are rushed for time and do not know what to do, you can use a California Judicial Council form and mark the box for “general denial.” You can always amend your Answer later. However, please note that if you want to raise a defense of improper service, you MUST do so in your initial Answer, or you will not be able to do so at all.

What will happen if I ignore the Summons? 

If you ignore the Summons, the plaintiff will almost certainly ask the court to award a judgment against you. This kind of judgment is called a “default judgment.” A default judgment usually awards the plaintiff everything that it asked for in the Complaint, plus interest and court costs. The judgment will accumulate interest at the rate of 10% per year and is enforceable for ten years if not satisfied. The judgment also gives the plaintiff the right to try to collect money from you by freezing your bank account or garnishing your wages. You can avoid a default judgment by filing an Answer and appearing in court.

What happens after I file an Answer? 

After you file an Answer, the court will notify you of your first court date. Your first court date could be anywhere from 1 month to 9 months after you file your Answer, depending on where you live. It is very important that you attend this court date. If you fail to attend the court date, the court will award a default judgment against you.

What is the “burden of proof”? 

The “burden of proof” is the responsibility to provide evidence in support of a legal claim.

Who has the burden of proof in a debt collection case? 

The plaintiff — the creditor or debt buyer — ALWAYS has the burden of proof in a debt collection case. This means that the plaintiff has to come up with evidence to prove to the court that (1) the plaintiff has the right to sue you; (2) the debt is yours; and (3) you owe the exact amount of money that the plaintiff claims you owe. You do not have to prove that you do not owe the money. Rather, the plaintiff has to prove that you DO owe the money.

Debt Defense Clinic

Tax and Bankruptcy Practice Group

Message from the Tax and Bankruptcy Practice Group:

The diversity of our practice, our strong work ethic, respectful treatment of our clients, and prompt responsiveness to their needs all have contributed to ICLS's success. 

We successfully served more than 200 clients, through consultations, brief services, and full representation in 2018. The total decrease in tax liabilities, penalties, and interest was $93,508. This means we helped our clients avoid paying unjustified charges. A total of $20,829 was refunded to our clients, through our various efforts. In 2019, we expect to go beyond our previous numbers. Our primary focus is to assist clients that meet our income guidelines, however, if you are having a tax issue, we may be able to assist you. To see if you qualify, contact us at (888)245-4257.

Who are we?

  • Peter Lin-Tsai, Tax Clinic Director

  • Charles Appel, Bankruptcy Attorney II

  • Anna Sanchez, Tax Attorney I

  • Rudy De La Torre, Paralegal II

Types of Services

  • Bankruptcies and advice on resolving debt and collections.

  • Advise and represent taxpayers facing IRS and CA State tax issues through the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC).

Low-Income Taxpayer (LITC)

The Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (“LITC”) is the core of our group.

  • Funding is provided through LITC Office. The LITC Office is part of the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), which is the advocacy arm of the IRS.
  • The purpose is to protect taxpayers’ rights by providing access to representation for low-income taxpayers so that achieving the correct outcome is not dependent on their ability to pay for representation.

What does the LITC do?

LITC provides consultation and representation to individual taxpayers for, but not limited to:

• Negotiations and Tax;

• Debt Settlement;

• Audits;

• Earned Income Tax;

• Credit Appeals;

• Litigation;

• Fraudulent Tax Preparation;

• Identify Theft;

• Liens and Levies;

• Innocent Spouse Relief;

• Collection Matter.

Our three areas of focus:

  • Provide pro bono representation on their behalf in tax disputes with the IRS;

  • Educate taxpayers about their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers; and

  • Identify and advocate for issues that impact low-income taxpayers.

In addition to representing taxpayers before the IRS and in U.S. Tax Court, the Tax and Bankruptcy Practice Group also carries out a number of educational presentations each year. In terms of advocacy, we track certain issues and if we see common themes, we notify the Taxpayer Advocate Service of the problem. 

In general, the Tax and Bankruptcy Practice Group services are limited to IRS tax controversies, although we assist clients facing state tax issues as well.


At this time, the Tax and Bankruptcy Practice Group is providing counsel and advice, as well as representing a handful of clients in Bankruptcy cases. 


ICLS is not a tax return preparation service. If you need tax returns prepared, please visit to find a VITA location near you.