In my interview with Ryan Winkler, who hopes to be the next Minnesota Attorney General, we spent a fair amount of time talking about what an attorney general does and the attorney general’s unusual position in the executive branch. This is particularly interesting in light of recent events.
After President Trump issued his executive order on border security and immigration, it was almost immediately challenged in court. But the acting US Attorney General, Sally Yates, refused to defend the executive order (which meant the Department of Justice would not defend the order). She explained that she was “not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with [her] responsibilities, nor [was she] convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
Some condemned Yates for her decision while others lauded her for it. In any case she was quickly fired. However, Yates’s decision was not all that unusual.
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.
I have a quibble with this quote from the New York Times‘s Jessica Silver-Greenberg, which she uses to set the stage for her reporting on the Encore Capital Group settlement:
The same problems that dogged the foreclosure of homes — and prompted public outcry and a multibillion-dollar settlement by some of the nation’s biggest banks — are increasingly showing up in the practices of large buyers of bad consumer debt.
Debt buyers were engaging in assembly-line litigation long before the foreclosure firms started. I’ve been writing about it here for years, but it’s just never gotten the same kind of exposure as the foreclosure industry’s callous disregard for the courts briefly did.
Debt settlement is basically debt collection by another name. Out of one side of their mouths, debt settlement companies promise creditors they will help them get paid. Out of the other side of their mouths, debt settlement companies promise consumers great “deals” to resolve their debts. In order to appear more effective (or trustworthy, maybe), many debt settlement companies go to great lengths to appear to be law firms, while putting WE ARE NOT YOUR LAWYER disclaimers in the small print to attempt to avoid violating unauthorized practice of law regulations.
At best, consumers spend a lot of money to get settlements they could easily have gotten themselves with a few phone calls. At worst—and far too often—consumers spend a lot of money and get nothing.
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 comments on Caveat Emptor are full of stories of consumers who complained to their attorney general, all to no avail. This is completely normal, and has to do with the powers granted to state attorneys general.
Attorneys represent clients, and in the case of a state attorney general, the client is the state. As a practical matter, that means elected officials and state agencies, when they wind up in court. The attorney general also protects “the public good.” That means the attorney general may bring a lawsuit on behalf of the state, but attorneys general do not represent individuals.
The Oregon Attorney General has reached a settlement with Allied Interstate worth $90,000. According to the Associated Press, “the Oregon Department of Justice ‘will not tolerate any attempt to threaten, harass or mislead Oregon consumers.'”
Preacquired account marketing means charging you for things you don’t buy. These are the Free trial membership!!! offers you get in the mail or see in magazines, or the $9.99 text messages that keep coming if you don’t text back a special code to stop them. Preacquired account marketing companies play fast and loose with what it means to give consent to be billed for a service.
A recent Iowa judgment against a major perpetrator of these scams may have other companies thinking twice. Iowa district court judge Robert Hutchison ordered Vertrue to pay about $33.5 million for violating the the Iowa Buying Club Membership Law and the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act.
That’s a huge victory, but let’s put it in context. Vertrue’s website claims that its revenues were $800 million just a few years ago. That was before the economy tanked, and we don’t know how much of that was profit, but it sounds like Vertrue can probably absorb this loss. Fortunately, it cannot keep up with business as usual in Iowa; the judgment also includes an injunction prohibiting Verture from further violations of the law.
The National Associaion of Attorneys General released their list of the top 10 sources of consumer complaints for 2008, and the winner is: debt collectors!
No surprise there, after all, what other profession has been the bane of the poor since before Christ? Evil enough that Shakespeare took time to write about one in Venice.
Second place, car salesmen. Horse traders have not been around as long, which may be the reason debt collectors beat them to the glory.
Predatory lending, the scourge of the economy, only reached number 6.
Here is the list: