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A Binghamton attorney who defaulted on his law school loans dating back to the early 1980s cannot evade his obligations simply because a prior collection effort was dismissed, a federal judge has held.

Northern District Judge Glenn Suddaby (See Profile) rejected Craig Fritzsch’s res judicata argument, largely because the 1996 dismissal of a similar action was not based on the merits. Consequently, Fritzsch is potentially on the hook for at least $21,000.

Records show that Fritzsch borrowed $15,000 in the early 1980s to fund his education at the University of Buffalo School of Law. Fritzsch paid back some of the money, but defaulted in 1994.

At that point, the New York State Higher Education Services Corp. initiated a collection action in Binghamton City Court. Fritzsch filed for bankruptcy in 1996, the year the case was dismissed for failure to prosecute.

In 2012, the federal government came after Fritzsch to collect the student loan arrears. Suddaby said the doctrine of res judicata did not apply because the prior action was dismissed for failure to prosecute, and not on the merits.

Suddaby, in United States v. Fritzsch, 3:12-CV-0906, directed the parties to “engage in meaningful settlement negotiations” prior to a conference on Oct. 2.

Fritzsch appeared pro se. The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Larkin.