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Representing the Pro Bono Client: Consumer Law Basics 2019


Speaker(s): Adrienne McEntee, James A. Francis, Joshua R.I. Cohen, Linda Jun, Peter Holland, Robert W. Murphy, Ronald Wilcox, Ronald L. Burdge, Scott C. Borison
Recorded on: May. 17, 2019
PLI Program #: 252590

Like many students attending college, part of Josh’s financial aid package included work study – a program which funds a job for a student to help provide money for the student to live off of while attending college. Josh’s job landed him in the financial aid office of Brandeis University. There, he was exposed to financial aid in a way most college students are not. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect that experience to play such an important role in his career.

Many years later Josh found himself in law school at the Quinnipiac University School of Law. As his second year was rapidly coming to a close, Josh began researching summer positions. It was during a discussion with a few professors that Josh learned of consumer law – an area of law that was severely underrepresented with enormous growth potential, and best of all, an area that appealed to Josh’s sense of community activism and fighting for the little guy. During another discussion with a professor that ran the internship programs, he learned of Connecticut Legal Services (Legal Aid) and its unique consumer program – the Consumer Law Project for Elders (CLEP).

Josh immediately called the program director who asked, “You WANT to do consumer law?” Apparently Josh was the first law student requesting to work in the program. This is where Josh was first exposed to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and how it protected consumers from harassing and abusive debt collection conduct.

At CLEP, one project involved an elder gentleman and his student loans. It seemed he had gone to trucking school in the early ’80s but had never paid off his student loan. The man had received a letter threatening to offset his social security if he did not get his loan out of default. Suddenly Josh’s years of working in the Brandeis financial aid office came rushing back. Josh immediately knew what to do and assisted with the paperwork. By the end of the summer, the gentleman had avoided the offset, cured his default, and was making voluntary payments of a reduced amount that did not affect his budget. But still, Josh had no idea this was just the start.

As Josh began his third year of law school, the CLEP director invited Josh to a seminar being given by one of the Connecticut’s leading FDCPA attorneys. By the end of the seminar, Josh had lined up an interview with this lawyer and three weeks later started a part-time job as a law clerk at the lawyer’s firm, the Consumer Law Group.

In October of 2008, Josh went solo, founding the Law Office of Joshua R.I. Cohen. He very much enjoyed doing consumer law and wanted his firm to focus exclusively on consumer law. Specifically, the firm worked on debt collection defense, debt collector harassment and abusive conduct (FDCPA), credit report issues, and debt settlement. Josh also decided to focus on student loan law. Rather quickly, he realized that this was an especially underrepresented area of consumer law and there was a growing need for legal help.

Almost immediately, Josh found debt collection violations running rampant throughout the student loan collection industry. After consulting with his former boss, the two joined forces to bring a few cases with class action potential. In 2011, after being requested by fellow consumer advocates, Joshua started teaching the Student Loan Law Workshop. To date, over 200 attorneys have attended the Workshop.


Adrienne McEntee is a member of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC (TMLG), where she concentrates her practice on complex litigation, including the prosecution of class actions on behalf of consumers, actions involving vulnerable adults, trusts and estates, and real estate and commercial disputes. Prior to joining TMLG, Adrienne was a member of Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC. Before entering private practice, Adrienne worked with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted a broad range of cases, including fraud and other economic crimes.


Jim Francis has been admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third, Fourth and Ninth Circuits, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, as well as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey state courts. He is a 1992 graduate of Muhlenberg College (B.A., cum laude) and a 1995 graduate of the Temple University Beasley School of Law. In law school, he won the 1995 Wapner, Newman & Wigrizer, P.C. award for excellence in civil trial advocacy, was awarded outstanding oral advocacy and served as President of the Student Bar Association. Following law school, Mr. Francis was associated with Kolsby, Gordon, Robin, Shore & Rothweiler in Philadelphia. Since 1998, he has focused his practice in consumer protection litigation, with a particular concentration in fair credit reporting, fair debt collection practices and consumer class actions.

In 2004, Mr. Francis was the youngest lawyer to be ranked in the Top 100 Superlawyers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia Magazine and Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine. He was subsequently ranked a Top 100 Pennsylvania Superlawyer in 2008, 2012, and 2014, and has been regularly ranked one of the Top 100 Superlawyers in Philadelphia since 2004.

In 2017, Mr. Francis served as trial counsel in a $60 million dollar class action jury verdict, which is the largest verdict in history for a case brought under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In 2009, Mr. Francis argued the seminal FCRA case of Cortez v. Trans Union before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. He lectures and speaks extensively on the FCRA for continuing legal education seminars, law schools and community groups, and has published articles on the FCRA. He has appeared on various news programs including the Today Show and PBS NewsHour to discuss consumer-related issues, and was featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s biographical “Question & Answer” segment in February of 2009. He has been certified to serve as class counsel in over 50 consumer class actions, has been trial counsel in three class actions to successful plaintiff’s verdicts, and has served as counsel in some of the largest FCRA settlements in history.

In May of 2014, Mr. Francis was awarded the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia's Equal Justice Award at its annual Breakfast of Champions. He was also selected as one of a small national group of plaintiffs' lawyers to be featured in Law 360's Titans of the Plaintiff's Bar series in October of 2014. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA).

 


Linda Jun is Senior Policy Counsel at Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund (AFREF), a national coalition formed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that is working to lay the foundation for a strong, stable, and ethical financial system. In collaboration with coalition partners, she leads AFREF’s policy work on consumer and housing issues. Before joining AFREF, she was Senior Staff Attorney in the Foreclosure Prevention Project at Mobilization for Justice (formerly MFY Legal Services) in New York City, where she represented homeowners in all stages of foreclosure proceedings, including administrative complaints, pleadings, settlement conference negotiations, motion practice, discovery, and affirmative litigation in state and federal court. She has presented at several local, state, and national trainings on a wide range of foreclosure related issues to attorneys, housing counselors, and court personnel. In 2016, she was one of four primary authors of the NYRL report Divergent Paths: The Need for More Uniform Standards and Practices in New York State’s Residential Foreclosure Conference Process. Before her work at Mobilization for Justice, Ms. Jun spent two years starting a new court-based foreclosure mediation program in the Third Judicial Circuit in Illinois, creating the program’s infrastructure and drafting the local court rule for the program. Ms. Jun graduated cum laude from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and received her B.A. from Northwestern University.


Peter Holland is recognized as a national authority on consumer protection law, with a special emphasis on debt buyer lawsuits. Prior to his return to full time private practice, he ran the Consumer Protection Clinic at the University of Maryland Law School for 5 years, where he published several groundbreaking articles, and trained law students and pro bono lawyers in debt defense and consumer protection litigation. Peter is a frequent lecturer at state and national consumer protection conferences, and is regularly sought out by other lawyers as a mentor, adviser and co-counsel. He has been counsel in several impact cases dealing with consumer rights. He has also been co-counsel in class actions resulting in the dismissal of thousands of lawsuits filed by debt buyers, automobile finance and property management companies. His scholarship on debt buyers has been cited by courts and academics alike, and he is a frequent commentator in the media on consumer litigation issues.


Robert W. Murphy is in private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, focusing on consumer class action litigation. He presently serves as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Florida College of Law in Gainesville, Florida. He is a past chair of the Consumer Protection Law Committee of The Florida Bar and a former Board Member, Secretary and Florida State Chairperson for the National Association of Consumer Advocates.  He has spoken at many seminars and conferences hosted by a variety of state and national organizations, including The Florida Bar, The Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, the National Consumer Law Center, the National Association of Legal Aid and Public Defenders, and the United States Military Judge Advocate Corps as well as college and law schools.  In October, 2007 and April, 2011, the Federal Trade Commission designated Mr. Murphy to be panel member for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Symposium in Washington, DC, which addressed the rising abuses in the consumer debt collection industry.

Mr. Murphy has been lead counsel in a wide variety of state-wide, regional and national consumer class actions throughout the United States.  In 2003, Mr. Murphy obtained the first contested certified class under the Florida Retail Installment Sales Act as reported in Brown v. SCI Funeral Services of Florida, 212 F.R.D.602 (S.D. Fla. 2003), which was described in the South Florida Business Review as one of the most significant cases in South Florida in 2003. More recently, Mr. Murphy was lead counsel in a 2009 nationwide class action which provided over $50 million in relief to over 8,000 consumers whose vehicles had been wrongfully repossessed.  To date, Attorney Murphy has obtained class benefits estimated to be in excess of $500 million with significant cy pres awards to consumer and legal aid organizations. 

Mr. Murphy attended the U.S. Military Academy, and received his B.A. cum laude from Wake Forest University in 1984 and his J.D. from the University of Florida College of Law in 1987.  He is admitted to practice in Florida and Georgia; the United States District Courts for the Middle District of Florida, Southern District of Florida, Northern District of Florida, Western District of Oklahoma, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Georgia, Northern District of Georgia; Western District of Michigan; Western District of Tennessee; United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit and has been admitted pro hac vice in numerous other state and federal courts.

A regular contributor to local and national news media on consumer law topics, Mr. Murphy most recently appeared on ABC News Nightline on January 19, 2007 on the topic of consumer debt collection. He has authored and contributed to many articles and papers on consumer litigation issues, including a recent treatise published by the National Consumer Law Center on debt collection.

Mr. Murphy maintains his South Florida office at 1212 SE 2nd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Telephone (954)763-8660, E-mail: rwmurphy@lawfirmmurphy.com.


Ron Wilcox is a consumer protection attorney that sues creditors and abusive debt collectors for, among other things, violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Identity Theft Act, and Electronic Funds Transfer Act violations on behalf of consumers.  He has litigated cases throughout the U.S. from his office in San Jose, CA.  Ron has been admitted to practice in California since 1995. 

Ron is currently serving on the Board of Directors, as Secretary, for the National Association of Consumer Advocates, an organization of 1,500 attorneys nationwide.  He has been awarded Santa Clara University’s Community Law Center’s Community Service Award, has appeared on ABC, CBS, and Telemundo Television news reports, has published articles in the San Francisco Daily Law Journal and Los Angeles Daily Law Journal, the California Bankruptcy Reporter, and has been interviewed, and quoted, by the Wall Street Journal, San Jose Mercury News, and KGO Radio.  

Ron Wilcox holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from New York University, a graduate Certificate of Special Studies in Administration and Management from Harvard University, and a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University.  He served as Managing Editor of the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies and engaged in a Federal Civil Courts Clerkship in the chambers of the Hon. John Paul Godich, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.  He has also completed UC Berkeley’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution training course as well as Alternative Dispute Resolution workshops at Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, University of Southern California and Stanford University.  Ron is a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College.  

Some Case Highlights:
• Abels v. JBC Legal Group, P.C., No. C 04-02345, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9180 (N.D. Cal. May 16, 2005) (first decision to hold a class action can be brought under the California FDCPA); 
• Romero v. Department Stores National Bank, 725 Fed. Appx. 537 (9th Cir. 2018) (first decision holding certain California Fair Debt Collection Practices Act violations cannot be cured, and also holding a consumer’s right to privacy can be invaded by the volume of telephone calls to her, regardless of the content of the calls, or the fact she voluntarily provider her telephone number);
• Fausto v. Credigy Servs. Corp., 598 F. Supp. 2d 1049 (N.D. Cal. 2009) (finding the FDCPA applies whether or not a debt is owed, and denying efforts to dismiss the plaintiff’s intrusion upon seclusion and punitive damages claims (also resulting in a jury verdict of $500,000, plus attorney’s fees and costs)); 
• Sanchez v. Client Services, Inc., 520 F. Supp. 2d 1149 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (the only decision is California where the consumer’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted for a debt collector’s repeated abusive telephone calls); 
• Panahiasl v. Gurney, No. 04-04479, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17269 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 8, 2007) (the first California decision adopting the federal, as opposed to California, standard for actual damages under the FDCPA).


Ronald L. Burdge is the founder of Burdge Law Office in Dayton, Ohio. With 40 years of AutoFraud experience and 20 years of attorney fee research and expert witness work, he has authored numerous articles in national, state, and local publications, and lectured widely on AutoFraud and Consumer Law topics, Attorney Fee issues and trial practice and strategy topics. He has extensive trial and appellate experience in individual and class action cases involving car dealers, manufacturers, lenders and their business practices and is one of the few Consumer Law Trial Attorneys who has class action jury trial experience. Repeatedly named an Ohio SuperLawyer in Consumer Law since 2005, he was named Trial Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Consumer Advocates in 2004 and has been an examiner for the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Since 1999, he has conducted Consumer Law Attorney Fee Surveys resulting in biannual published Reports that have been cited with approval in over 120 federal and state court attorney fee decisions across the United States and numerous Secondary Research Sources. Mr. Burdge is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and has testified in as an expert witness on Consumer Law and Attorney Fee issues in numerous state and federal courts and before the Ohio Legislature.


Scott C. Borison devotes his time, energy, passion and 30+ years of experience as a lawyer to representing consumers to see they receive the protections they are entitled to under the law and help them enforce the rights they have against debt buyers, debt collectors, lenders, banks and mortgage companies. He recently started a network of attorneys across the country who share the same passion to help consumers: lawzebra.com. 

He has represented thousands of consumers across the country in trials and appeals. His trial experience includes class actions and individual cases before state and federal courts. He is a graduate of the Trial Lawyers college He is licensed in California, District of Columbia and Maryland. He is also admitted before the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 9th and 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and various federal district courts across the country.