Ryan Winkler is running for Minnesota Attorney General in 2018. I’ve known Ryan since my last year of law school at the University of Minnesota. I had just started one of the first student chapters of the American Constitution Society, and Ryan was starting one of the first chapters for practicing lawyers.
Soon after, Ryan entered the Minnesota House of Representatives as a DFLer from Golden Valley, and served from from 2007 to 2015. In 2015 he left the legislature to support his wife’s career when she took a job in Belgium. Since then, Ryan has been going back and forth between Belgium and Minnesota, and he will obviously move back in time for his campaign. ((Ryan does not intend to challenge the current Minnesota Attorney General, Lori Swanson, but she is widely expected to run for governor in 2018.))
I haven’t kept in touch with Ryan since I graduated law school, but I saw him do plenty of good work in the Minnesota legislature. And since it is really early in the 2018 race, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reconnect and interview Ryan.
We spent about an hour talking about what a Minnesota Attorney General does and what kind of attorney general Ryan intends to be, including how he would use the office to prevent the wealthy (and others) from hiding behind “wall of privilege.” We discussed the role the Minnesota Attorney General could play in resolving complaints like those of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how a state attorney general could stand up to unconstitutional actions by the federal government under President Trump.
Sewer service happens when the process server — the person charged with telling the defendant they have been sued — lies about serving it. The Minnesota Attorney General just sued TJ Process Service for exactly that. The owner of the company leaves little room for doubt. Here is his sworn testimony:
Q: [Y]ou believe 100 percent he [Umland] engaged in sewer service?
A: Yes. What percentage and how many times that was, I don’t know.
The Minnesota interest rate for debts due to overdrawn bank accounts is 6%. Bradstreet & Associates was trying to charge 21.75%. According to Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson,
Since 2009, Bradstreet and its predecessor company bought at least $18 million in debt that originated with Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. This affects, we believe, at least 16,000 Minnesota consumers.
Debt collection agency knew WAY more than it should have about hospital patients’ medical conditions: bit.ly/w4JF6X
— Kashmir Hill (@kashhill) January 20, 2012
The Minnesota Attorney General’s lawsuit against National Arbitration forum alleges that NAF is “in cahoots” with one of the largest debt collection law firms in the United States, Mann Bracken. Mann Bracken, un-coincidentally, is also one of NAF’s best clients.
Arbitration awards are routinely confirmed by state district courts, as they must be under the Federal Arbitration Act as currently written. After confirmation, the creditor may use garnishment, levy, and other collection tools to collect the award—now a judgment. But the FAA provides for several reasons why state courts should not enforce arbitration awards; one reason is partiality or corruption.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s lawsuit calls into serious question NAF’s impartiality. And although NAF agreed to stop handling consumer arbitrations, there are thousands of arbitration awards floating around that remain potential enforceable.
Consumers facing motions to confirm arbitration awards in district court should bring up the allegations in the lawsuit and question NAF’s impartiality. If NAF is basically working for creditors and debt collectors, their impartiality is merely an illusion, and the arbitration awards should be vacated.
The Minnesota Attorney General sued National Arbitration Forum (PDF) last week, accusing NAF of colluding with creditors and debt collectors to screw consumers. At a press conference, AG Lori Swanson said “[t]his is a classic case of the little guy getting stepped on by fine-print contracts.”
Four days later, seeing the writing on the wall, NAF capitulated and agreed not to handle any more consumer collection arbitrations (PDF). No more credit cards, medical bills, consumer loans, or any of that.
This is a big victory for consumers. Without the NAF assembly line, creditors will have to use the legal system to collect. And while the legal system may not be as “efficient” as NAF’s assembly-line arbitrations, judges are not paid by the creditors.
The findings come from a panel convened by Attorney General Lori Swanson and chaired by Prentiss Cox, professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. The suggestions to add criminal penalties on top of already-available civil ones is a result of the startling rise in foreclosures we have been reporting on at length.
The possible problem with the criminal sanctions is that many police departments lack the expertise to prosecute such claims, particularly because they involve so many thorny legal issues. The Attorney General only prosecutes “big” cases as a general rule, and so this will likely provide little deterrence to small-time predatory lenders. However, any additional remedies for consumers is a welcome change.