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The Corporate Observer

A Publication by Attorneys Devoted to Protecting Consumer Rights

A Sad Day for Small Business and Consumers

Posted in Uncategorized

Today’s 5 to 4 decision by the United States Supreme Court perhaps puts the final nail in the coffin of consumers’ and now small businesses’ abilities to assert their statutory rights  and maintain a “level playing field in disputes of any kind against major corporate interests.”  Antonin Scalia not surprisingly gleefully pounded that nail, claiming it doesn’t matter if consumers (or in the case of Italian Colors — ironically a  small Italian restaurant) were attempting to assert their rights under the federal antitrust laws — they were out of luck.  The Federal Arbitration Act trumps all and has been erected by the Roberts court as nothing short of the “Great Wall of China” to protect corporate interests and defeat the efforts of small business and consumers to simply have their day in court.
In dissent, Justice Kagan could only look on in disbelief and describe the decision as a “betrayal.”   I commend Paul Bland’s excellent blog on the case.  http://publicjustice.net/blog/worst-supreme-court-arbitration-decision-ever
Only time will tell the full impact of this decision, but no doubt if past is pattern, corporate interests will set forth upon a new era far more harsh and unforgiving to the interests of consumers and small businesses.

DC Bar Treasurer, Steven N. Berk: The Timing Was Right

Posted in Person of the Week

Until this past May, I hadn’t run for anything since the 8th grade.  Then it was president of the class, no less, but, it was 8th grade.  We’re talking about the tail end of the Nixon administration and a Cubs team that only played during the day at Wrigley Field.  But I recently campaigned and was elected with 3515 votes of my peers to the post of Treasurer of the District of Columbia Bar.  Why did I do it?  Timing I suppose.  Like an 8th grader who looks back with nostalgic pride at mastering his middle school’s turf and forward with a vague hope for the days ahead in the mysterious world of high school, I’m at a place in my career in which I feel less invested in the isolated idea of myself and more so in the wider concept of my place in the community.  I care more about my profession; my lens is broader than when I started practicing law over 25 years ago in Chicago.  As a young lawyer – brimming with bravado and excitement – it was all about how “I” can get experience.  How “I” can move up the ladder from associate to what seemed to be such a lofty position:  “Partner”. 

Having done that and been there, I’m more concerned these days about strengthening in some small way my chosen profession.  I care about the plight of new lawyers finding their way, older lawyers transitioning, and the many thousands of less fortunate citizens who depend on the Bar’s robust pro bono program for representation.  I hope as Treasurer to learn, from an inside perspective, what resources the Bar has available and to the best of my ability try to see that those resources are being used effectively.

I feel both humbled and honored to have been elected to this position.  I am committed to respecting the support my peers have given me and I look forward to the challenges ahead.



T-Mobile’s Simplified Plans – Simply Misleading

Posted in Consumer Protection

T-Mobile made a splash last week when it announced it would begin carrying the iPhone without a contract. The company has also made headlines with a new advertisement campaign claiming

We’re cancelling our membership in the out-of-touch-wireless-carrier club.

But are they?

Let’s move away from the iPhone to a more concrete example – a phone T-Mobile is already offering, the incredibly popular Samsung Galaxy S 3. Have a look at the website. A normal impression is that the phone costs just $69.99 plus $20/month. But that’s not the whole story.

You see, that $20/month doesn’t cover actually using the phone. In reality, it’s just an installment plan that ends up costing you the same amount of money as buying the phone outright.  You’ll still need to pay $50/month for phone service. So, consumers, that’s $69.99 up front plus $70/month (not $20)…quite a difference.

What’s more, the service plan claims it provides unlimited talk, text, and web. Ha! In reality, consumers only receive 500 MB of data before T-Mobile begins throttling (slowing) your service. Sure, there’s no overage charges; but throttled data is hardly “unlimited.”

In T-Mobile’s defense, the fine print can become clear with some in depth research and, perhaps, a call to customer service. As an added point in T-Mobile’s defense, their service is excellent in the Washington, DC area.

Still, this new ad campaign of “simplicity” and “meeting the customer’s needs” rubs me the wrong way. In my book, “simple” doesn’t include confusing and mislabeled installment plans masquerading as affordable pricing schemes.

Hey, John Legere (CEO of T-Mobile America), no matter what you say, you’re still a member of the “out-of-touch-wireless-carrier club.”

Monday Roundup

Posted in Consumer Protection
The Monday Roundup – a weekly collection of top consumer-related news just for you.


Banks Enabling Fraud Beware: DOJ is on the Case

Posted in Banks and Financial Services, Consumer Protection

Four years ago, I began representing victims of fraudulent schemes who filed suits against banks for providing the financial services that were essential to perpetrating the fraud.  We developed our case on the theory that the banks (some of the largest in the land) aided and abetted the fraud.  These cases seemed like “no brainers.”  A slick Ponzi Schemer (in one case he had just been released from a federal prison (for fraud no less)) who begins using a bank as his financial back office – who wouldn’t think the bank should be held accountable? The Ponzi Schemer deposits tens of millions without any sign of an actual operating business (hmmmm) and uses the bank to transfer funds overseas (can you say money laundering) – all the while receiving advice from branch employees and bank officers about how to increase financial efficiency.  In one particularly shocking case, a bank employee worked directly for the Ponzi schemer as an “embedded” employee.  But alas the timing wasn’t right and without exception these cases were dismissed.  But times “they are a changing”

DOJ appears to be willing and anxious to prosecute financial fraud against enablers including: banks, third-party payment processors and other financial institutions who “provide the scammers with access to the national banking system and facilitate the movement of money from the victim of the fraud to the scam artist.” This initiative seems to be the brainchild of Michael Bresnick, who heads up Continue Reading

Monday Roundup

Posted in Consumer Protection

Here it is…Our weekly collection of the most interesting articles and stories for consumers. Enjoy.

Remember, if you’ve been the victim of a scam, bought a product based on false representations, or suffered discrimination in any form, contact us to discuss your options.

Food Labeling: The Next Big Consumer Protection Scandal??

Posted in Consumer Protection

I’m going to look in my crystal ball and predict that the next big consumer protection fiasco will be food labeling.  Last year we saw the “pink slime” scandal result in the product’s removal from a lot of hamburgers.  Consumer outrage over discovering the presence of pink slime in our beef supply was so strong that he USDA felt the need to justify its approval of pink slime as “safe,” in this statement. Lately, we’ve seen Europe erupt over a horsemeat scandal.  The New York Times noted that:

“The discovery of horse meat in products labeled as beef in the European Union has raised serious questions, not just about food labeling, but also about food safety and the working of the somewhat opaque, global horse meat industry.”

What grabs my attention about this quote isn’t the “ick” factor about eating horsemeat, but rather the “somewhat opaque” horse meat industry.  From a consumer’s perspective, an area you do NOT want to be full of mystery and fly-by-night standards is the food you eat.

People naturally have a visceral reaction when they hear about problems with food.  People might get upset if a coupon they have isn’t honored, or their car manufacturer won’t fix a recurring problem under warranty, but when it comes to food, the response is frequently a gut-wrenching, “Eww,” accompanied by a nose wrinkled in disgust.  The problem is that we have only begun to scratch the surface Continue Reading

Monday Roundup

Posted in Consumer Protection

Here is your weekly Monday Roundup from sites we enjoy and frequent:

Whistleblower Files Suit and, Suddenly, Former Employer is Willing to Talk

Posted in Banks and Financial Services, In the Courts

Whistleblowers often risk retaliation in their quest to report wrongdoing.  Retaliation can take the subtle form of poor performance reviews or another “just missed promotion,” or the more extreme form of outright firing someone.  As the New York Times reports, Mr. Jason Williams experienced retaliation in the form of reduced pay and verbal abuse.

Williams used to be an executive at the Pacific Investment Management Company (“Pimco”), a huge money management firm, where he worked for over ten years.  In Williams’ position as a high-yield bond portfolio manager, he saw a whole slew of misdeeds, insider trading, manipulating rates and values of holdings to scam clients, you know, all the most popular securities violations, being performed by senior management at Pimco.  We’ve seen the banking and finance industry exposed in scandal after scandal as one who has done the math and concluded that violating securities laws is more profitable than following them – even if you get caught once and a while.

Williams was not comfortable with this.  He reported the wrongdoing to internal compliance officers, who told his supervisor.  Pimco allegedly undertook a review of all Williams’ concerns and found nothing. What a surprise.

But Pimco did find something for Williams, reduced pay and verbal abuse.   Continue Reading

Monday Roundup

Posted in Consumer Protection
Here is your weekly Monday Roundup from sites we enjoy and frequent: