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Public Protection in the Wake of COVID-19: States’ Attorneys General Address Their Initiatives


Speaker(s): Jane M. Azia, Julia B. Strickland, Nicklas A. Akers, Shannon E. Smith, Shennan A. Kavanagh, Thomas P. James
Recorded on: May. 15, 2020
PLI Program #: 301596

Jane Azia has been the Chief of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection in under Attorney General Eric Schneiderman since May 2011.  From April 2007 through April 2011, she served as the Director of Consumer Protection for the New York State Banking Department where she was responsible for ensuring compliance with applicable consumer protection laws and that consumers have access to and receive financial products and services that are fair and not predatory.  Prior to joining the Banking Department, Jane worked for nearly twenty-five years as an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the New York Attorney General in the Consumer and Internet bureaus.  Jane has worked on a wide range of consumer issues, including predatory lending, credit and financial services, advertising, retail sales, health care, insurance, product safety, housing, telecommunications, telemarketing, food and drugs, privacy and online services.  Jane also spent five years as a legal services attorney in Brooklyn and Poughkeepsie.  Jane is a graduate of NYU Law School. 


Shennan Kavanagh is the Deputy Chief of the Consumer Protection Division at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. She is engaged in the day-to-day work in a variety of the Division’s core consumer finance investigations and litigation, including matters involving predatory lending, student loan servicing, automobile sales and financing and debt collection.

Ms. Kavanagh’s entire legal career has been devoted to representing low-income consumers and public service. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, Ms. Kavanagh was a co-founder and partner at Klein Kavanagh Costello, LLP, a mission-driven consumer finance class action firm that litigated cases nationwide.  Her areas of concentration included predatory and discriminatory mortgage lending, unfair mortgage servicing, unfair debt collection and creditors’ violations of the bankruptcy code. Ms. Kavanagh practiced in the areas of consumer finance litigation and class actions as an associate at Roddy Klein & Ryan before starting her own firm.

In addition to complex class action litigation, Ms. Kavanagh has handled dozens of pro bono cases during her time in private practice, successfully preventing foreclosures for individuals, obtaining home loan modifications, and stopping harassing debt collectors.


Tom James serves as the Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Fraud Bureau of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General where he holds the position of Consumer Counsel. Tom has been a litigator in that Office since 1988 and has extensive knowledge of major federal and state consumer protection statutes. In recent years he has concentrated on credit-related unfair and deceptive financial practices and associated anticompetitive market behavior. He’s participated on various regional and national multi-state enforcement teams specializing in cases against individuals and institutions engaged in sales and marketing misrepresentation, predatory price distortion, wealth and equity stripping, fair-lending violations, and structural unfairness and loan product abuse in the home-loan and mortgage-lending, consumer-credit and securitization markets. Tom’s also worked extensively in drafting commentary, statutes and regulations in collaboration with legislative staff, not-for-profit organizations, major community banking and state bank associations, and state and federal regulators. He helped draft the Illinois High Cost Home Loan Act of 2004, the Illinois Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Act of 2007, and the Illinois Consumer Installment and Payday Loan Reform Act of 2010. Tom is a past member of the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council.  Before becoming a lawyer, Tom worked as a housing counselor for the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities in Chicago where he assisted inner-city public housing tenants relocate to privately-owned residential units on a metropolitan-wide basis. Tom earned his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and is licensed in California and Illinois.


Recognized as one of the best litigators in the country, Julia Strickland leads a broad national practice that focuses on the defense of class actions and other complex actions. Julia is regularly called by world-renowned financial services companies and others when they are confronted with issues that put them at substantial economic and reputational risk. She is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Managing Partner of the Los Angeles office, head of the firm’s national Financial Services Litigation, Regulation and Enforcement Group, and co-chair of Stroock’s national litigation practice.

In addition to her vast experience successfully representing clients through dispositive motion practice, trial and/or appeal, Julia has a deserved reputation for negotiating and structuring settlements of complex and class actions. She is versatile and creative in addressing settlement considerations, both legal and business, and in developing settlement structure options tailored to the client’s unique needs. She also routinely represents companies in compliance counseling, regulatory proceedings and responding to claims by federal and state regulators and enforcement authorities. Julia’s client list is a “Who’s Who” of financial companies, including American Express, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Discover, Citigroup, BMW Financial Services and Synchrony Bank, among others.

Julia repeatedly has been recognized as a leader in the field. Julia once again received top honors in Chambers USA 2021 with a Band 1 ranking in the Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance Litigation–Nationwide category.  She is one of only five attorneys across the country to receive this recognition. In addition, for more than 15 years running, the Los Angeles Daily Journal has continuously named Julia one of California’s “Top Women Lawyers.” She also was selected by Law360 as a Banking MVP, joining an elite slate of only six lawyers nationally who have distinguished themselves from their peers. The Los Angeles Business Journal recently honored Julia as a "Women of Influence" in 2021, recognized her as one of its “Leaders of Influence: Top Litigators & Trial Lawyers” in 2019 and 2020, named her one of the “Top Women Attorneys in Los Angeles” in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and featured her in its “Leaders in Law,” where she was awarded the publication’s “Lawyers of the Year” honors in 2016 and 2017. Julia was recognized by leading corporate counsel as a member of the BTI Consulting Group’s “Client Services All-Stars” for her “uncanny ability to anticipate opposing counsel,” as well as being “very customer focused and practical.” She additionally has been repeatedly recognized by Super Lawyers, Benchmark Litigation, the Los Angeles Times and The Best Lawyers in America.

 

 


Shannon Smith is a Senior Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. Her responsibilities include managing the division’s litigation, enforcement, consumer services, and outreach and education activities.  In addition to enforcing consumer protection laws, the division is responsible for administering the state’s Lemon Law Program and Manufactured Housing Program.  Shannon also oversees the Public Counsel Unit, which represents the interests of residential and small business ratepayers in utility regulatory matters.  Shannon joined the Consumer Protection Division in 2005 and was named Division Chief in 2012.

Prior to joining the Consumer Protection Division, Shannon represented the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in telecommunications and energy regulatory matters (1995-2005) and the Department of Licensing and Department of Health in professional licensing disciplinary matters (1989-2005).  She has been with the Washington Attorney General’s Office since 1989.


Nicklas A. Akers is the Senior Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Consumer Law Section of the California Department of Justice, which investigates and prosecutes violations of California’s consumer protection and privacy laws.  His representative matters include People v. Heald (Corinthian Colleges) and the Volkswagen emissions litigation.  Nick also serves as a Judge Advocate and legal assistance attorney in the California State Guard.  He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and UCLA, and he is admitted in California, Massachusetts and New York.  Nick lives in the San Francisco bay area with his wife, Amy Akers, M.D., and their daughter.