I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear about your situation.
In California, a judgment is good for 10 years from the date that it is issued, and it can be renewed. That also means a person who has a judgment against you is able to put it on your credit report. The way to get it removed is to seek to have the original judgment vacated.
In California, getting a judgment vacated requires that (a) You were never served with notice of the underlying lawsuit and (b) You have a valid defense to the payment, such as that the statute of limitations had run when it was filed or you did not owe the money in the first place. If you can establish both of those things, you have the ability to file a Motion to Vacate Default. In Small Claims Court, this needs to be filed within 180 days after you find the judgment. In the larger courts, you have more time, but it's not in your best interests to delay (especially if they're trying to collect a bogus judgment).
The first step is to visit the courthouse that issued the judgment and get copies of ALL documents filed in the case. You need to see exactly how much they're suing you for, why, when they filed, and how they claim to have served you with notice of the lawsuit. If you're not sure which courthouse has the case, it should be the county where you were living when it was filed. It might help to make a few phone calls before going in, and if that's not where you live now, see if they'll mail the documents to you (they usually will, for a small photocopying fee). Once you have that, you can prepare your Motion to Vacate. In Small Claims Court, there is a form you can use. If you're in the Superior Court, you can use the form to draft your own motion or hire a local attorney to help. The easiest way to know the difference is that Small Claims should be for less than $10,000, and Superior Court would be for any amount above that.
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