Gurstel Chargo’s “Accountability Matters” Campaign

For as often as I represented people sued by Gurstel Chargo or sued Gurstel Chargo for FDCPA violations, I’m shocked at how little I wrote about one of Minnesota’s busiest debt collection law firms. I actually know the marketer (a lovely person, actually) who came up with Gurstel’s current marketing campaign, and I chuckled when I saw it for the first time. Accountability Matters as a debt collector slogan is the height of hubris. I’m just grateful I’m here to see Gurstel take its own medicine.

Here’s what a Gurstel lawyer collector told a disabled veteran:

Fuck you! Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces your ass. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off social security while the rest of us honest Americans work our ass off. Too bad; you should have died.

Fortunately, Arizona consumer lawyer Floyd Bybee is holding Gurstel accountable. He sued Gurstel under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, among other things. Here’s what Gurstel has to say about the lawsuit:

We learned late last week of the lawsuit filed by Michael Andrew Collier and Kim Collier-Dingman. Gurstel Chargo takes the allegations made in the lawsuit very seriously and we have immediately launched an internal investigation to determine the facts. We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the Complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm. We expect that all Gurstel Chargo employees fully comply with all state and federal laws, and we thoroughly train our employees to perform their job in a lawful and respectful manner. Under no circumstances does our firm tolerate the type of conduct alleged in the Complaint.

This is just boilerplate. It’s what debt collectors put into their company policies to cover their asses, regardless of what lawyers and collectors learn in the boiler room or the courtroom.

But let’s assume Gurstel means well. Imagine what happens to your psyche when you spend all day trying to get people who are broke to cough up some money for your client’s coffers. You sweated through three years of law school, and all you get to do is sign paperwork and show up for default hearings, or go against pro se defendants who have a decent chance of winning because your evidence is weak and you don’t have much time to prepare between signing things. How demoralizing must that be? How easy it must be to lose your perspective and your empathy and to think of all your accounts as deadbeat whiners. It’s not hard to imagine a lawyer breaking down and blowing up at a disabled veteran. But that doesn’t make it legal, and we’ll see whether Gurstel Chargo takes its own accountability seriously.

Update: As Todd Murray points out in the comments, the person who made the comment quoted above seems to have been a Minnesota legal assistant (i.e., plain old debt collector, not a lawyer). I don’t think that changes anything in the paragraph above this one, except that non-lawyer collectors don’t even get the diversion of court.

Update 2: See this comment and my response for the outcome. (tl;dr: The plaintiff agreed that “Gurstel Chargo performed no action that was in violation of the FDCPA” and “[t]he telephone call … was not made by Gurstel Chargo.” Seems conclusive.