(3 of 5) Long Beach, CA: Field hearing on debt collection and the Latino community

Okay. If we could get folks sitting down so
we could start our afternoon session, just in one moment. Give everybody a minute to
come on in and sit down. I hope everybody Okay. I think we’re ready to start. We have
a great panel. It’s being moderated by Tom Paul, and I told Tom I would have to introduce
him. Tom was a highly regarded manager at the Federal Trade Commission for years. He
was an advisor to Commissioner Azcuenaga and has practiced in the area of financial practices
for years. He is now at the CFPB—some of our great attorneys moved over when the agency
was created—where he is Managing Counsel. So, Tom, please take it away. Thank you, Tom. I’m the Managing Counsel in
the Office of Regulations at the CFPB, where a lot of what I work on involves debt collection
and credit reporting issues, including rule-making and policy work. I’ve been very interested
in what we heard this morning, and I’m looking forward to what we’re going to hear this afternoon,
as well. Our first panel today really discussed the
aspects of debt collection that occur before consumers end up getting in to the court system,
and we’re going to take the next step here, on this panel, and talk about the experiences
of Latino and limited-English-proficiency consumers once they get into the debt collection
litigation process, and really trying to figure out whether or not there is fair access and
fair treatment for members of those communities in the court systems, and if there are problems,
what kind of solutions might be worth considering as we move forward to correct those problems. Fortunately, we have a very experienced and
esteemed panel that’s going to help us walk through these issues this afternoon. The panelists,
I will give them an opportunity now to introduce themselves. We can start with Jose, who is
immediately to my left. Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Jose
Alarcon. I’m a staff attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. We provide
free legal services to low-income individuals. I manage the debtors’ rights and bankruptcy
program, and what I do, I work mostly with seniors and individuals who are disabled.
I do a lot of educational workshops to provide them with information about debt collection
works, what to expect if they are facing a lawsuit, and what happens after a judgment
is entered. We also assist in other types of issues—identity theft, student loans,
a little bit of tax matters, as well. Good afternoon. My name is Joseph Jaramillo
from Housing and Economic Rights Advocates. I’m a senior attorney there, at HARA, for
short, and what HARA does is we protect consumers and low- to moderate-income homeowners and
people against discriminatory and abusive practices in the realm of financial products,
particularly for homeowners and people that are in danger of losing their homes, but also
for students with student loan debt, and other types of debt collection, and also trying
to provide access for credit. I’m Ted Mermin. I’m the Executive Director
of the Public Good Law Center in Berkeley, California, but I think I’m actually here
in my role with the East Bay Community Law Center, also in Berkeley and Oakland, which
has a consumer law practice, a debt collection defense practice, and a recently launched,
what we think—although anyone here can correct me—is the first immigrant consumer law clinic
in the nation. We were co-sponsor with the California Attorney General’s Office of SB
233, the Fair Debt Buying Practices Act. Good afternoon. I’m Makyla Moody. I’m General
Counsel for Wakefield & Associates, which is based out of Aurora, Colorado. During the
course of my career, prior to becoming in-house counsel for Wakefield, which is an accounts
receivable company, I served as outside counsel and litigated on various levels for creditor
rights during the course of my career. Thanks for having me today. Good afternoon. My name is Harvey Moore. I
am the President of the Moore Law Group, a debt collection law firm with offices in California,
Colorado, and New Mexico. I am currently standing for President-Elect of the National Association
of Retail Collection Attorneys, and tomorrow morning, about ten o’clock, I will be giving
my speech at the NARCA conference. I am the current Education Pillar Chair. I have been
the NARCA Professional Standards Pillar Chair, have chaired the NARCA Amicus Brief Committee,
the Law and Legislation Committee, Task Force on Debtor and Consolidator Scams and Fraud,
and I’m also a Past President of the California Creditors Bar Association. Great. Thank you, everyone. As with our earlier
panel, we will try to save some time at the end for questions from the audience, so I
would encourage everyone who has questions to write them out on the notecards that are
found on the seats, and people will be collecting them in the aisles and bringing them up here
for us to pose. Another thing I did want to point out is that even if we don’t get an
opportunity to pose your questions, they are important to us, and both agencies will take
them back and consider them in our thinking about what we hear today, because we realize
that, as much as we’d like to be able to pose all of the questions, we may not get to them,
for reasons of time. Without further ado, I think one of the things
that would be very useful to start with is to make the transition from the last panel
and ask Makyla and Harvey, basically, when a debt goes from being in the pre-litigation
collection channel and is being switched to the litigation channel, what do debt collection
attorneys, at that point, know about whether the consumer is a Latino or is an LEP consumer,
and what effect, if any, does that have on how they approach the collection of the debt? Generally, when I get the information for
a collection litigation, in particular, I have very limited information concerning whether
or not a particular individual is limited-English-proficiency or not. It’s usually after the court case
has been filed and I have the initial communication with the consumer, inside the courthouse,
that I learn that, often times. We have a somewhat different situation. Our
client base is primarily original credit grantors. We are seeing a trend, that as files are now
being placed with us, the clients are working on advising us that the language of the contract,
or the language of the initial communication between the credit grantor and the consumer
was in Spanish language. So we’re starting to see more of an information flow coming
from our clients. The primary way of finding out, though, if somebody is an LEP Latino
is through the initial communication that we get, either on an inbound call or an outbound
call, and we find out that the consumer is a Spanish-speaking consumer, and then we would
carry on communication with that consumer. One thing that we try to take into account,
in our firm, and I think this is standard in the industry, or at least standard for
the NARCA members, is we are subject to fair lending, and we have a policy and procedure
in our firm that we follow, and that is that when dealing with a consumer in any phase
of collections in litigation, we cannot discriminate against a consumer based upon race, color,
religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or their good faith exercise of rights,
familial, status, or handicap. So the fact that someone is an LEP Latino, or a Spanish
speaker doesn’t get them treated differently per se, as far as how we treat them for the
alternate resolution, which is to try to have them become a payer, if they are the person
that is obligated on a legitimate debt owing to one of our clients. Thank you. When debt collection complaints
are filed in court, consumers often don’t defend, which leads to default judgments against
them. In 2010, the FTC issued a report in which it estimated that roughly 75 to 90 percent
of debt collection cases that are brought against consumers end up being not defended
and becoming a default judgment against consumers. One thing I would be interested in hearing
from members of the panel is whether the failure to defend and default judgments is something
that occurs in a similar prevalence with Latino and LEP consumers, or not, and, if so, is
there anything that the panel members think should be done that could encourage these
consumers to defend the cases and avoid default judgments being entered against them? I guess
we’ll start out to all the panel members who would like to comment on that. What I’ve seen that is somewhat unique for
the Latino community, what I’ve seen is a lot of clients who have gone to individuals
who are attorneys, who are paralegals, notarios, or other individuals for help. Many times
they pay for the answer, and, for whatever reason, I’ve seen it more often where they
don’t bother to file the answer, or they don’t take that final step of actually filing the
answer. Recently, this week, I had an attorney, a colleague of mine, who came to me with a
case like that, and that particular client did exactly that. He went to someone, not
an attorney, paid for the answer, but did not file the answer because he had heard there
was a fee to file the answer, and didn’t know about the fee waiver. I think that’s one reason. I think the another reason is a lot of clients,
and Latino, in particular, are fearful of the court system, for various reasons, and
they feel like they have to take action, and just going to someone for help, and filing
the answer, they get some relief, but actually taking that step, that fear and the stigma
related to it, is one reason that they don’t go forward, regardless of whether or not they
have any defenses. We’ve had a similar experience, in terms of
Latino clients and immigrant clients in non-English or limited-English-proficient speaking clients.
A lot of them are intimidated to go to the court system or trust the court system. Many
of them do not know their rights, and so by the time it gets to us, maybe 10 or 20 people
have been scammed, and then, finally, someone comes to seek legal assistance. We had one case where there was a gentleman
who was a real estate agent, promising to save people from foreclosures, charging money
up front, which is illegal, and then, whether or not he got the foreclosure stopped and
got a loan modification for the client, he would demand that they pay even more money,
and when they didn’t, he would sue them. He’s not an attorney, so he would just go into
court and sue then pro se. When the client came to us, we basically searched a couple
of the court system in the Bay Area, and we found that he had sued over 20 people, using
the same pattern. So we reached out to some of those people
and we happened to contact an attorney who had defended some of those people when the
same person sued them again, and was able to help them file answers. We talked to them
and a lot of it was intimidation, and I think, in this particular instance—and this may
be a common pattern with notarios or non-attorneys who are offering foreclosure rescue or other
types of financial assistance—they felt intimidated by the person himself, because
he’s a real estate agent, he’s education, in their minds, he knows the court system,
and they just didn’t want to stand up to him. There have been other cases where debt collectors
have gone after non-recoverable debt, like a first lien mortgage after the foreclosure
happened, and they bought the debt from the lender, and then they sued to recover the
remaining balance on the debt, and that’s non-recoverable in California. We’re a non-recourse
state. By the time a client came to us with that problem, we were able to find out that
over 100 people had been basically sued by this particular debt collector, Heritage Financial,
and most of them either settled with them before, by paying some amount for the debt
owed, or just basically let a default judgment be entered against them. So it’s a big problem. I concur with both Jose and Joe, that this
is something that we’ve seen as a distinction between Latinos and other clients that we
have. I want to just also say, though, to Tom’s general point, the rate of default.
The rate of default across the board is a matter of great concern. The great majority
of cases are going without the defendant ever showing up in court. There is no due process
if you are not there. There are certainly different theories for why this was happening,
and we’ve heard some of them from the consumer side. From the collector side, or the debt buyer
side, in particular, it seems as though there are at least some bad actors, presumably,
who were using this as something of a business model, because if you were able to bring cases
through the court system and get a judgment, that would, as the previous panel mentioned,
it would extend the statute of limitations, or allow you to garnish wages, allow you to
levy bank accounts, put liens on property, and so on, and you could collect it yourself
or you could sell the debt again, at a higher rate. What its occasion, unfortunately, was
a lot of abuses, some we heard in terms of the names and the additional data. We had one client who was contacted. She said,
“Oh, that’s not my middle initial.” “What is your middle initial?” This. “What is your
Social Security number?” That. And then, of course, they called back and now they have
the Social Security number. Now they have the new middle initial. That is the sort of
practice that we were seeing, in particular, about 5 years ago. I don’t know exactly when
the FTC’s data was drawn from, but I think that really was quite prevalent, certainly
throughout the Bay Area, and, from what we’ve heard, throughout the state of California. I do want to say, in response to some of the
things that Mark mentioned in the first panel, that we, at least in Alameda County—I can’t
speak for all counties, and, in fact, I think I don’t speak for all counties in California.
I think there’s a real variance—we have seen a real difference. A presumable default
rate, up around 90 percent, is much closer to 20 percent now in the cases that we have
seen. That’s certainly an improvement from the industry side. We like to think it’s also an improvement
based on the anticipation of, and now the active existence of the Fair Debt Buying Practices
Act, which has provisions that work against this kind of accidental or intentional cases
of mistaken identity. People were certainly willing to pay a certain amount to just make
people go away, even if it’s not the right person. And as many people in this room probably
know, one of the co-authors of that act was a state senator named Luis Correa, whose wages
were garnished because a different Luis Correa had a department store account that was being
collected upon. I think it’s a little bit different, and we
have to recognize there are some semantics difference in the way that you’re using the
term “default judgment.” In Colorado, a lot of things get lumped in as being qualified
as default judgments, and, for statistical purposes, they are considered to be default
judgments. But what’s happening is we have mandatory appearance jurisdiction, which mean,
on first appearances and when they’re served, they have a specific date and time that they
have to come to court, if they choose to come to court, or a deadline for filing a response
of pleading. Oftentimes we’re seeing a lot of limited-English-proficient individuals
coming into court, and they’re acknowledging the indebtedness. They’re acknowledging to
the court that, yes, they owe this particular debt, and they just don’t have the financial
means or resources or ability to pay that, or they may just be simply uncollectable,
in certain situations. Those qualify as default judgments, but it’s
very different, because an acknowledgement, it’s not that they’re failing to defend. It’s
there’s no point to defending, and I think that has to be considered when you’re looking
at the semantic difference, and that there are terms of art that are particularly useful
within the court system that have connotations that sometimes the general populous doesn’t
always understand, whether it be limited-English individuals or even people who speak English
as a first language. I want to follow up on that, because have
seen default rates go down, not necessarily because of answers being filed. There’s been
more bankruptcies. There’s been more settlements. But one of the things that you have to take
into account when you consider a default judgment is, a lot of consumers that owe legitimate
debt to a credit grantor, or if the debt has been sold off, to a debt buyer, acknowledge
they owe the debt, as Makyla said, and I think they’ve come to the conclusion of, “I don’t
want to spend the additional money. I don’t want to pay a lawyer. I don’t want to pay
a filing fee,” because, in California, the filing fee can be over $400 to file an answer
in court on a case that’s over $10,000 in debt being sought. So they’re acknowledging to themselves they
owe the debt, and filing an answer and going through the court system, and spending the
time, and missing work takes time and value that, I think, a lot of the consumers that
are sued today say, “I’ll let the judgment go. I’ll let them take a judgment. If they
can find my assets, then they can collect. If they can’t find my assets, they have a
judgment against me.” It’s sad but true, their credit has already been impacted because they
have a debt that’s gone into default. They’ve got a charge-off, be it an I9 or an R9. So
I think a lot of people today take a look at a lawsuit and say, “I know we owe the money
but I’m not going to invest the time or the money to defend,” and I think we see a lot
of that. Can I add something here? We’re here today
at a roundtable to discuss issues on how we can help the community. I think in regard
to defaults, whether or not that’s true, I think our role, at least my role, as an attorney,
as a legal aid attorney, is to make sure that my client has the choice to know whether or
not to file an answer, and I think a lot of clients don’t know that they have that choice.
Whether they feel their compelled to file an answer or, whether when they get served,
they don’t realize it’s a lawsuit. So I think us, as advocates, our role is to
make sure clients are aware of what the rules are, what their rights are, and then give
them the choice to file an answer, if they choose to. There may be reasons why they want
to respond. Maybe they need to time to negotiate, because they’ve been trying to negotiate with
the collector and the collector has refused to accept payments. I see that a lot. Clients
say, “Why am I being sued? I’ve been calling them. I’ve been trying to send them payments
and they won’t accept them. Now I’m getting sued, when I’ve been trying to pay off this
debt.” There are a lot of different reasons why people decide not to file an answer, or
to ignore the lawsuit, to get involved. Either way, I think our role, as advocates, is to
make sure they know they now they have a choice, and what that choice really means. And one thing to take into account, in California—and
I brought the summons with me—every complaint that’s filed in California has what’s a called
a summons, that is the front page that they see. We’re talking about LEP Latinos. The
language on the summons, in California, is translated in Spanish, and there are two websites
reference on the summons. One is the California Court’s Online Self-Help Center, and the other
is a way to find legal aid. So, it’s translated into Spanish, and there is an opportunity
for the LEP Latinos, when they are served, they can go online, they can go to the Self-Help
Center, and they can also look for free legal assistance that they are directed to by the
state of California, by the court system, on where to get help and where to get advice. I think there’s a follow-up question. Is that
something that consumers find understandable? I mean, even if they’re Spanish-speaking consumers
who read it, is that language in the summons clear enough so that they know what their
rights are? I am not fluent in Spanish, but I have asked
my staff members, because we do have collectors and litigation support staff that speaks Spanish.
I think it’s clear. It’s in the same type as what it is in English. I says, “Notice,
you have been sued. The court may decided against you without your being heard unless
you respond within 30 days. Read the information below.” The court website, by the way, is
in Spanish. There are videos in Spanish available to the LEP Latino consumers. The Self-Help
Center website is in Spanish. So there are tools available to the LEP Latinos, available
when they are sued and when they receive the summons. I want to go back to something that, actually,
Harvey pointed out, and that is that many people who are sued go through the thought
process of how am I going to defend this, can I defend it, can I afford an attorney,
can I afford the time? For LEP Latinos, I think one of the issues is they don’t necessarily
know how to use the Internet, or have access to the Internet. Many of my clients don’t
use e-mail, so that’s not going to help them. I think another issue is they may immediately,
or one of the big things weighing on their mind is, can I afford an attorney? This is
court. I can’t go into court by myself, and I can’t afford an attorney. Unfortunately,
many consumers don’t know how to reach out to a nonprofit or a legal aid attorney, and
maybe it’s on the summons but it’s still intimidating for them. So that’s one issue. And just another thing I wanted to point out,
we’ve seen people with default judgments who were never actually served. One method of
service is substitutes, or it’s where you leave it with an adult at the last known address
and then you mail a copy. Oftentimes, the consumer has moved on several times, several
different locations, before that service took place, so sometimes there’s no notice and
there’s a default judgment that occurs, as well. Go one step further along the process, after
the summons. Obviously, when litigation begins, there is a complaint and there may be attachments
to that complaint. A question that I think would be helpful to hear from panelists is
whether Latinos and LEP consumers understand these court documents when they receive them,
and, if not, are there things that could be done differently to make those materials more
understandable to them? And I guess Joseph or Harvey or anyone else who would like to
weigh in on that, please speak to it. I think it’s something that should be looked
at. One of the things is the California courts are looking at providing better language access
throughout the whole system, and they’re going through a language access planning process
right now, and they’ve solicited input from stakeholders and the public, as well as experts.
One of the things that they point out in the course of doing that is that it’s not just
being in court and not having an interpreter, because California does not provide the right
to an interpreter in civil proceedings, at this point. It’s also everything else that goes around
a legal process. There are court-ordered mediations, there are case management conferences, there’s
settlement conferences, and different points in the process where people don’t have access
to really understand what’s going on, because they don’t have a court-certified interpreter.
They may have a family member who looks at it and tells them what it means, but family
members are not trained, and they don’t necessarily understand legal terms, so there’s going to
be a lot of room for miscommunication there. One of the recommendations that came out of
that report was that court orders be translated, officially, court-certified translations of
court orders into a language that the consumer can understand. The summons is an interesting
issue. Before I became a lawyer, I’d seen a summons before in English and it just looked
like a bunch of words, and I tried to figure out everything that it meant. It just looks
intimidating, and I think that’s a form that maybe there could be something in more simple
language, just kind of highlight that you need to see an attorney, and there are free
legal services available. I know it says that, in some ways, in the current form, but I think
there are ways to make it look less intimidating and more simple to someone, so it could be
more accessible. So, the question is, again, do they understand
the language of the documents, and I agree. The California Judicial Branch just finished
a strategic planning process for language access in the California courts. It’s a very
long document, but one of the things that it says—and I’d like to just read a quote
form it—it says that “Language access must start before an LEP user reaches the courthouse
doors. It must begin with community outreach and education efforts, Web-based access and
utilization of ethnic media access or outlets to educate the public.” The starting point for the process is not
when I serve somebody with a summons and complaint. The starting process has to be an educational
process. The public needs to be educated about the legal process, about what happens if you
get yourself in an economic problem, what happens if you get yourself sued. The process
can’t begin when the clock starts and you have 30 days to respond. It needs to be educating
the community about the system, about what system you’re living in, what your legal rights
are. And I will say this, and I mean this. My filing
a lawsuit, to me, is a failure on my part. I’ve been practicing law for 34 years. I started
out as a business litigator. I did not start out as a debt collection attorney. Filing
a lawsuit means I have failed in my job to negotiate a settlement prior to having to
file a lawsuit, and my staff knows I believe that, and I think it’s something that’s engrained
in me. I don’t want to spend the money to file the lawsuit. I don’t want to spend the
money to serve the consumer, or go through the process to get a judgment. I would much rather have open communication
with the consumer, when I get that file placed, when I send out my 1692g letter, which says
the file has been place for me for collection, you have certain rights to request validation,
et cetera. But what I really want is I want to enter into a negotiation agreement with
a consumer about the repayment of a legitimate debt, a legitimate obligation, owing to my
client, before I file the lawsuit. I just want to echo and support what I’m hearing
from both sides of me. I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition. I think it should
start in the community. There should be outreach. Telemundo is working down here. Univision
has it. Consumidor Al Dia in Northern California. There are several media stars in this room
who have appeared on that. I think that’s an essential component. I think that Harvey
wouldn’t disagree that you also want the summons to be as clear as possible, and that you want
the reaction of a person reading the summons to be understanding of what is going on, as
clearly as possible, knowing what the next step is, where to go for resources. And we
want, ultimately, education to be happening at every point in the process, with the materials
to reflect that, and for people to be understanding what is going on, as well being aware of what
their rights are in the process. If there is vehement agreement on this panel, then
I think it’s a good thing. Let me follow up on that by asking, what particular
topics are most important for Latino and LEP consumers to learn about, and what could be
done to bring that about? Maybe if Jose and then Makyla could speak to that, that would
be great. Well, what I do at Bet Tzedek is we get a
lot of calls for this type of assistance, individuals who are dealing with debt collection,
and we have limited resources. We are a nonprofit, a legal aid office. So what I’ve done to sort
of try to get out to the community is, when someone calls us, we have them attend a presentation,
a debtor’s rights clinic, if you will, and at this presentation I give an overview on
what I think is important for the debtor to understand, in regards to the law. I give
an overview on the fair debt collection rules. I give an overview now, thanks to Ted, the
Fair Debt Buyers Practices Act, on how credit reports work, and scams to be aware of. I talk to them about what issues to be aware
of when they’re dealing with credit counseling agencies, and trying to set up a debt management
plan, on what a lawsuit really means, and the statute of limitations, and discovery,
and getting a judgment, and the exemptions involved with a judgment, enforcement actions.
And then I talk to them about bankruptcy, Chapter 7 and 13. I try to give all this information
in 90 minutes, and I rely heavily on handouts, materials available from different government
agencies—the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Department of Consumer
Affairs. Fortunately, a lot of this information now is in Spanish, so it makes my job a lot
easier. So, from my perspective, on my side of the
table, clients, in order for them to really understand how collection works and where
they fit in that process, they need to understand all these different areas of law, and it’s
difficult for a lot of individuals because it’s a lot of information. After they attend
the presentation, then we offer them a one-on-one consultation. Usually I’ve found that individuals,
when they come in, are not as scared, not as intimidated about the process, and are
better able to understand the information I’m giving them at that point, during the
initial consultation. Well, it’s kind of an interesting thing. I’m
not licensed to practice in California and I don’t practice in California, so I apologize
to the rest of the panel, since I’m not familiar with California, in particular. Colorado is
kind of interesting because we developed a Language Access Plan that went into effect
back in 2011, and under that Language Access Plan, unlike California, from what I’m hearing,
is that we provide, at the court’s expense, court-certified interpreters for every hearing
and ancillary proceeding to a court action, with the court-certified interpreters, regardless
of what type of claim it is or what kind of action it is. It’s just general, across the
board. The other thing that Colorado did that’s kind
of interesting, for the fiscal year of 2013-2014, we have 22 judicial districts in the state,
and part of the judiciary budget for that year provided for a self-help center in each
individual judicial district, and those, in the more densely populated areas, have attorneys
that sometimes that staff that. They provide procedural information. They help with the
forms. On our course website, they provide most of the forms both in English and in Spanish.
There are instructions for filling out those particular forms in English and in Spanish—and
I’m going to correct one little thing I said earlier. I said generally there is an appearance
date. It does depend on which court you’re in. If you’re in our district court, that’s
anything over $15,000. It’s a more traditional line, where you get a summons and you have
to answer by pleading within 21 days. In our county courts, which is where the vast
majority of collections suits are being filed, that’s a mandatory appearance, and the courts
are putting those mandatory appearance because they want the parties to get together, and
they want to have communications before it has to escalate. If an answer needs to be
filed, by all means file an answer, and the nice thing about our system, with these HUD
self-help centers, is because, as an attorney that represents a party with an adverse interest—and
we have to understand, the court process is an adversarial system, no matter what. It’s
inherently designed to resolve disputes. So I can’t give legal advice to the other side.
I can encourage them to seek legal counsel, I can tell them there are legal aid services
out there, and I can direct them to self-help centers that are available in each of the
judicial districts, to assist them with filling out the pleadings. In Denver, in particular, the nice factor
is our self-help center is staffed not only by an attorney but she’s also bilingual, and
the court’s interpreters are there to provide for the judicial districts that don’t have
a bilingual attorney on staff. Thank you. I think that’s a good segue to
asking a question that involves representation by counsel, because, of course, that can be
critical to protecting consumer rights in an adversarial system. How frequently are
Latino and LEP consumers represented by counsel in debt collection litigation, and who are
these counsel? Are they from private firms, or are they from pro bono organizations, legal
aid? And is there anything that could be done to encourage more representation of Latino
and LEP consumers in debt collection litigation? I’ll just offer that to the panelists. The percentage of consumers that are represented
by counsel in any debt collection case is a relatively small number. I don’t track—and,
again, until this panel discussion and the topic came up, LEP Latino is not something
that we were thinking about, necessarily, in connection with our practice. We do have
bilingual collectors. We do discuss, in Spanish, but it wasn’t because we were focusing on
LEP Latinos as a distinct group that had separate needs. We don’t track, necessary, LEP Latino
versus Latinos that speak English. In fact, I think that would be inappropriate for us
to start looking at last name. I think that would be somehow discriminatory. But as far as representation by attorneys,
it’s a low number across the board. The number of lawyers that represent consumers in debt
collection is somewhat limited. The cases are small. The amounts at issue are relatively
small, in general. I think the average lawsuit is for about $4,500. We try not to sue cases
that are too small, because of the economics of the case themselves. But there are people
that due represent consumers. I think we do find that there are more public law lawyers
representing people with lower income. As opposed to breaking it down by LEP Latino,
I think it would be more by income stratas. If you don’t make a certain amount, you qualify
for a public lawyer, as opposed to the lawyer saying that you would have to go to somebody
that you would have to pay for. Does anyone else have thoughts about attorneys
representing Latino and LEP consumers in debt collection litigation, and sort of where they
come from, and could that be fostered in any way? I think Harvey’s overall point is a very good
one, as far as it goes, which is that very few people are represented. I think that’s
a bad thing, across the board. It’s not Latino or LEP Latino specific, and whatever we can
do about that, we should do. Outreach matters. At this point—and it was
not always so—half of the clients that we see in debt collection cases are LEP Latino,
and it did not used to be that way before our clinic and the immigrant consumer justice
clinic went into effect. One thing you can do is to start practicing in the area and
make it clear that your doors are open, and that you are available to help represent people.
But I think Harvey’s point is a very good one. Our income guidelines are pretty strict,
and they’re low. Even within those income guidelines, the vast majority of people are
not getting representation, and outside it is also a very small percentage of people
who are represented. There are just not enough attorneys to go
around, that work for public interest or nonprofit organizations, to defend every debt collection
client. It’s supply and demand. The demand is great, and many of the demand don’t even
come to let you know that they need assistance, but even those that are seeking assistance,
there’s just not enough of us to do this kind of work, because a nonprofit organization
will do it for free. If someone can’t afford to get their own attorney, that’s really their
only choice, unless they can find a pro bono attorney, which sometimes nonprofits are able
to connect them with a pro bono attorney. But there’s just not enough attorneys out
there that will take on those kinds of matters. Just to follow up, the sort of work that Alysson
is doing in San Diego, to the degree that it can be scaled up, is very important, and
there are groups around the country who are working to this. To the degree that there
are materials independent of lawyers that can help people, and that those materials
are being developed and tested, that’s also a route to pursue. Thank you. Let’s turn to when a consumer actually
ends up in court, whether it’s a trial or a hearing. I’d be interested in hearing from
the panel members about any language barriers that come up for LEP consumers in the court
systems with which they’re familiar, or in which they practice. Talk a bit about what
kind of translation services are available, who pays for them, what is the quality of
them, and the like. We practice in three states—Colorado, New
Mexico, and California. I think Makyla has discussed what happens in Colorado. New Mexico
has a significant amount of language access. Every court in New Mexico has a Language Access
Plan. They have translators in the court. They have free translators. So, in those two
states, we’re not seeing problems with translation for LEP Latinos. California is a little bit different. California
happens to have the largest population of LEP Latinos in the country. L.A. County has
the largest population of LEP Latinos in the state, and our court system, in California,
does not have a sufficient amount of translators. They are slowly—and this is part of the
strategic plan. The plan is a 5-year plan. The intent of the plan is to have translators
for all court cases by 2020, which is 5 years down the road. We have a court system that
has a significant deficit, so where are they going to find money to fund a translator program
is going to be very interesting, because right now we can’t even keep our courts open. We
don’t have enough judges to hear the cases. There is a challenge with translators, though.
I found a recent article in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Basically, it was talking
about Clark County and the fact that the translators, it says, “Interpreter pay threatens court
system,” and they are fighting now over whether translators will be paid $50 an hour or somewhere
between $35 and $40 an hour. So it’s a budgetary question, as well. It’s where do you find
the funds to provide the translation services, and then, in California, the question is not
only an LEP Latino, but I think the report recognizes that there’s something in the neighborhood
of 217 distinct languages that have LEP issues. It’s not just a Latino issue. There are over
200 separate language groups that they have to worry about translations for. A number of folks have referred to the development
of access plans, strategic plans. I know, for example, that part of the Justice Civil
Rights Division has come up with a technical assistance tool that’s designed to help court
systems throughout the country develop language access plans. There’s one under development
in California. My understanding is that some other states have actually completed their
plans. But one thing that I would like to ask some of our panelists who have been involved
in the process of developing these plans, through hearings, filing comments, and the
like, what sort of topics are addressed by these plans, and are there any particular
ideas that they have seen in the development of these plans that they think are particularly
useful for policy-makers in other jurisdictions to consider? Well, when they’re developing plans, the Department
of Justice tool that you referred to is specifically tailored to the court systems, and it provides
some information, and it’s really, if you take the time to look at it, and you can download
it—I believe it was released earlier this year—it breaks it down into different types
of elements, like are there interpreter services being provided? Are there translation services
being provided? What’s the signage within the courthouses, and how are you communicating
with them? How are you assessing the effectiveness? How are you recording information? These things are all important. They need
this information, as Harvey was indicating, so that they can formulate budget plans because
budgeting is an issue for every state out there. I mean, court systems tend to be very
costly to maintain, and especially if you’re diversifying them and providing additional
assistance. I believe for the 2015 year, Colorado has requested part of the judiciary’s budget
system, they’re asking for an additional 7 full-time employees, and that’s an expense,
just for language access. So for anybody who’s out there looking at
these tools, you need to understand the communities that you’re serving, what type of communities,
and what their specific needs are, and then how do you assess whether or not you’re meeting
those requirements, and how you communicate with the people who are utilizing the language
access, and getting the feedback? I know Colorado interpreters, most of them are walking around
now with iPads, which is really quite fun, and they’re recording information. They’re
recording the case. They’re recording how long they’re providing interpreter services,
even if they’re full-time employees, the nature of the services that were provided. They’re
tracking a bunch of information so that it goes back into determining the budget. I just looked at the California plan. I haven’t
been directly involved, but it’s pretty comprehensive, and I think it tries to take a realistic,
hard look at what are the conditions on the ground, and where can we get to where we want
to be. Recognizing that it’s going to take some time to have enough certified court interpreters,
it calls for developing standards to provisionally qualify somebody to be an interpreter, even
though they haven’t been fully certified. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing
when there are conflicts of interest with somebody who’s not a court-certified interpreter,
like someone in court staff, if they try to interpret, family members. It says, “In absolutely
no circumstances should a minor child of a party to a lawsuit be an interpreter.” That’s just too much stress to put on someone’s
family member. It looks at the possibility of remote interpretation services, and the
plusses and minuses of that. I think it comes out against teleconferencing an interpreter,
because you need to have some sort of face-to-face contact. And it says, “Even with remote video
interpretation, there are some issues that should be looked at,” but short of being able
to have enough bodies in the courtrooms, that’s another thing. So I encourage people to look at that. I think
there are good ideas in there, and I think the 5-year plan is generally a good one, but,
again, it comes down to funding and whether there is going to be enough funding. Right
now the courts are all over the place. In my recent experiences, I’ve had some clients
that I’ve provided some sort of technical assistance because they were in small claims
court, and you can’t be represented directly by an attorney in small claims court. There’s
no interpretation services available in some of these courts, just because of the budget
shortage, so she’s got to scramble to find somebody, either to pay somebody or bring
a friend, and that’s definitely not ideal at all, for all the reasons we’ve talked about. I was in a settlement conference the other
day, with another client, and she brought a friend who’s bilingual, just in case, and
we didn’t have time to hire anybody. It’s a pro bono case, so she wasn’t going to pay
for it. We did reach a settlement. The judge wanted to read the settlement on the record
and have the client understand and agree to it, and he was adamant about putting everything
on hold until they could scour the courtroom and find somebody, and that process took about
45 minutes, and finally we got somebody to come and interpret. And he told her, “I don’t
know if we’re going to be able to find anybody, and your friend may just have to do,” and,
again, that’s not an ideal situation to have somebody agree to a settlement to, on the
record. So it’s a big issue. And it’s also a question of priority. One
of the things that we’re looking at today is debt collection law, so the courts are
faced with a bigger issue. The courts are faced with access to the court system for
LEP Latinos, for the entire court system. That includes domestic violence. It includes
divorce. It includes criminal. It includes landlord-tenant. It includes small claims.
What we’re looking at is we’re looking at a microcosm of a larger environment. We’re
looking micro versus macro. The court system has to look at it on a macro level, and they’re
prioritizing what areas they deem to be the most important, as far as access to justice,
and I think it’s becoming very clear that the highest priorities are criminal defense
and domestic violence. Maybe to follow up something that Joseph mentioned,
are there any technological fixes or partial fixes for the problems that we’ve been discussing
that relate to Latinos or LEP consumers in the court system? Are there any things that
we can do, through new technologies or new applications of existing technologies, that
could be helpful in dealing with any of these problems? Anybody who would like to speak
to that. Well, I can say, when Colorado was developing
their Language Access Plan and they were doing it in quite a hurry, they have a translation
service that’s located in the 18th Judicial District, that is there to translate language,
and there is a huge demand, and they’re trying to keep up. A lot of that information is getting
e-mailed, faxed, scanned over in various ways, and they’re having court-certified interpreters
and translators, and there is a big difference in your qualification levels for doing those
shorts of things, working very hard. In Boulder County, they also maintain a telephone
system line. It’s not just for Latinos, because a lot of our courts have, on staff, Spanish-speaking
interpreters, but we also have over 200 languages that are requested for interpretation services
throughout our court system, and, if we can’t get somebody for, like, Somali descent or
something like that, even to the courthouse right away, and they need somebody for a short
hearing, just to make sure they understand that continuance is happening until we can
get the interpreter physically there. They’re using this telephone conference system, and
there are technical issues that come with that, but it’s all recorded online. You’ve got some information that’s being provided
by video. We’ve got one jurisdiction in the county court that actually plays a video before
the parties are expected to communicate with one another directly, and it provides, also,
for represented litigants, information both in English and in Spanish, and it’s done by
one of the judicial officers for the English version, and then a certified court interpreter
for the Spanish version. One of the things in the California plan is
creation of multilingual standardized videos for certain types of cases that lend themselves
to standardized types of information. I think debt collection is probably one of those areas,
and it would be great to kind of take that and run with it, and create something that
the legal community, from all stakeholders and interests, could agree on, could be shown
to folks in Spanish and other languages, about debt collection cases. There actually is such an animal. On the Judicial
Branch of California, the California court website, there is a five-chapter video called
“Resolving Debt Collection Cases.” It is available in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Right. And, again, it’s something that I think,
Makyla spoke about videos being shown in the court, or live, and I think that’s something,
because this particular community, many folks, again, don’t have access to the Internet or
don’t know how to use the Internet. Many of my clients don’t. There’s a lot of great stuff
on the Web. FTC and CFPB have great information in Spanish on the Web, and I think maybe the
next step is to take that information and find a way to get it on the ground, whether
through videos or public service announcement on television, or other ways, because there
is a large segment of this particular community, and any sort of non-English-speaking or immigrant
community that really are not actively using the Internet these days. I’ve been using the videos, not those in particular,
but when I do my presentation I’ve started incorporating videos from the FTC’s website,
and I found them very useful. It makes my job a lot easier, and, of course, the resources.
In regards to the information available at the California Courts website, they have very
useful information in regards to if you’ve been served with a summons of complaint, what
issues you could consider. It’s in Spanish and English. I don’t know if it’s in any other
languages, but it’s very useful as a legal aid. It frees up some of my time. So would it be fair to say the information
is out there, and it’s just a question of how do you deliver the information to the
people that need it? It sounds like there is a lot of information
about there on the Internet, certainly. Yeah, I think a big issue is how to deliver it on
the ground, particularly for folks who don’t have access to the Internet. And I think there are some questions about
how complete the information is, and how effective the information is, as well. But there is
some out there, and that needs to be evaluated. I know the California courts are looking at
improving that website, in particular. I think with the information out there, the
clients don’t just need to receive the information but they also need to be able to put it into
context, and sometimes the information they find online, it’s just one part of the collection
process and they may not be able to relate it what they’re necessarily dealing with,
so they may not necessarily understand the significance of it. Let’s turn now to some of the questions from
the audience that people have provided, and if people have more questions, certainly write
them on the card and send them on up. These are in no particular order. The first question
is, what steps have you taken to avoid the problem of sewer service? And I guess that
would be anyone who is filing a case against consumers. Maybe to frame it a different way,
what do you do to make sure that service happens as it is legally required to happen? That’s a much better question. I figured you’d like that better. Sometimes I wonder about the questions, where
the answer is implied by the question. Let me be perfectly honest. Not only don’t I approve
of sewer service, sewer service is a waste of my time, my effort, and my money, because,
eventually, if I happen to have a bad service, somebody is going to call me up or write me
a letter, and they’re going to say, “Harvey, this consumer lived 20 miles away at the time
service was made. He wasn’t receiving mail at that address,” or whatever the circumstances
were. Vacate the judgment and start over again. From a practical standpoint, that’s not good
for me. I don’t want to have a judgment that somebody can asset aside. So we have a series of controls in place to
try—and I repeat, try—to ensure that we get effective service. The first thing we’re
doing is we’re scrubbing our files when they come in the door, with the national change
of address service. So we’re checking the U.S. Postal Service to see if the address
we have has been changed since the information was given to our client. We are sending out
the 1692g initial notice to the consumer. If it bounces back, I’m going to put it in
a skip tracing queue, so I can find a better address. We’re checking credit headers, so
we’re checking to see what the latest address is that’s been reported to the credit reporting
agencies. We have triggers in place, so if there’s a change of address, if the consumer
goes and make an application for a new loan and changes the address with the credit bureaus,
we’re going to be told that information. So we try to have valid service. The second thing we do is we have a control
in place that after service of process is made, or service provider sends us a copy
of the declaration, before it’s filed with the court, we are requiring GPS coordinates.
We are requiring a full description of the person that’s being served. We get age. We
get height. We get weight. We get a description. We then validate certain data points against
what we have in our system, and I’ll give you a good example. If the process server
says, “I did personal service on Betty Jones,” and the description is 31 years old and some
other qualifying features, and I look at 31 years old and I look at my qualifying features
and I find out that Betty Jones is 75 years old—not that I would necessarily sue somebody
75, but I don’t age discriminate— [Laughter.] But if they’re serving somebody 31 years old
and I’ve got a 75-year-old consumer, and I can tell that from date of birth, I’m going
to go back to my process server, and I’m going to say, “Service is no good. Why do you think
service is good?” So it’s not beneficial to me to have that service. I don’t stomach it.
We do a lot of vetting with our process servers. We require certain data points from our process
servers. We require a picture of where they were at the time. We have a checklist that
we have to validate for the service, to make sure that we believe, or we have a reasonable
basis in fact to believe that service was proper. Are we right 100 percent of the time?
No, but we try, because a bad service is going to cause me problems down the road. We try
to have 100 percent. Let me just ask some of the folks who you
represent, people on the consumer side, do you get complaints or concerns from the people
you represent or the people with whom you interact, about service problems? Yes. Yes. Yes, and let me explain. First of all, President
Moore, long may you reign. I hope that this video will be shown to your members, and that
the points in the Moore plan are implemented across the industry. It would be a fundamental
change in what we’ve seen. And it’s for people to point out, what we see, in many cases,
is that people have been harmed most seriously. Let me talk about just one practice that we
have seen of late. Harvey talked about the problem of someone just saying you’re going
to have to reopen the judgment, and then just sets it all back. Well, you have 2 years in
California to reopen that default judgment, after vacated, and we have recently been seeing
wage garnishment orders served 2 years and 1 month after the default judgment was obtained,
and it’s much harder, then, to do anything about that judgment. So there are bad actors
out there, and, unfortunately, we need to keep them in mind. There are a number of different steps that
can be taken. The Moore plan is an excellent start. In New York City, the sewer service
capital of the nation, they take the additional step, a simple step, of requiring the plaintiff,
creditor, or debt collector to supply a stamped envelope, and a copy of the summons and the
complaint goes in there, and it is mailed, just mailed, to the defendant. That simple
step is one that we might, I think, consider in California as the budgetary situation improves,
and, particularly, the court budgetary situation improves. Let me move on to another question. It’s kind
of an interesting one. The question is, do you believe the LEP community is reluctant
to use legal aid due to the perception that free legal services may be less effective
compared to services for which they pay a fee? What needs to be done to change this
mindset among members of the LEP community? I’m curious if anyone thinks that that may
be driving any of the decision-making here, a perception of relative effectiveness of
counsel? I’ll speak to that a little bit. At least
for the LEP community, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It is something that’s been
brought up before in different areas, but in regards to this community, no. I think
the clients who come to us—well, at least because of the topic, debt collection, they’re
scared and they go to a lot of different places for services, and usually they end up with
us, many times because they have been scammed, and usually someone, maybe a government agency,
said go to this agency, Bed Tzedek, public counsel and legal services, something at least
in L.A. County. So at least in Los Angeles, many clients come to us after they’ve been
scammed, after they’ve been going to a lot of different places, and then come to us because
they realize this is most likely where they’re going to get the help that they can trust. We have another question someone had sent
in. This panel is focused on litigation. Do panelists have experience with LEP Latinos
in arbitration, and, if so, are the same issues arising in arbitration as in litigation, or
not? Actually, in Colorado, we do more mandated
mediation, and because it’s mandated by the courts, yes, we actually get the courts’ interpreters,
the certified interpreters present to participate in the mediation services, and it’s really
helpful when that works, really helpful. I think that would also be our experience.
Arbitration, or court-ordered arbitration, it’s a dual step, because you go to arbitration,
you get an arbitration award, you still have to bring it back to court and get it entered
as an enforceable judgment. Again, it’s a time issue and I think, for the most part,
most consumer attorneys would try to resolve the case prior, and I think that they’re more
likely to go to a judge for determination than an arbitrator. I’m interested to know, actually, I don’t
know the answer, of how much debt collection is happening through arbitration in California
right now. It used to be the case that the great majority was happening through the National
Arbitration Forum, which collapsed in the face of an investigation into its thorough-going
corruptness from the Minnesota AG and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, and
I think that’s one of the driving forces behind the subsequent flood of small debt collection
cases in superior court in California. Another question that is posed is, in your
practices, what is the most common type of debt that you see being collected from Latinos
and LEP consumers? Well, our practice is primarily original credit
grantors in the credit card area. We don’t have the experience of the auto that’s sold
over and over and over again, or the affinity products, or things like that. Most of our
practice is in the credit card industry, so moderate efficiency. I think from the industry perspective, it’s
going to be based on what your area of specialty is. I mean, there are medical service providers
who focus only on doing medical debt. There are people who do auto loans or mortgages,
student loans. They specialize in those types of things. So it’s really going to be dependent
on what the company’s type of business arrangement is and what their model is, and that’s going
to depend on that. I mean, we’ve seen a range. I haven’t really
surveyed our intakes to really know, but it’s been a range from credit card debt to student
loan debt to foreclosure scammers and debt that results from that to non-recoverable
mortgage debt that shouldn’t be recovered because it was a foreclosure. So it’s been
a wide range, and I can’t really say that any one of them is jumping out at me at this
time. It’s a pretty wide range. I would say payday loans are becoming a big
issue, not necessarily because there are more lawsuits but because the collections efforts
are much more aggressive and abusive, and I think it’s definitely something we’ll be
seeing a lot more of. I’m going to blend together two or three questions
here that I have, and these are all posed to Harvey and Makyla. What do debt collection
attorneys do to make sure that they have adequate support for their cases before they file them
in court? If I’m going to go to trial in California,
I have to satisfy the judge that I have enough evidence to win my case, and that’s going
to be done in one of two ways. It’s going to be by declaration. We have a procedure
in California called CCP Section 98, which allows me to use a declaration in lieu of
live testimony, as long as I give the other side the opportunity to subpoena the witness,
object to the information in the declaration, cross examine. The other is by live testimony,
and my clients do have witnesses that I fly out to trials. We spend a lot of money to
proof up our cases. My clients take it very seriously. We have witnesses fly from all over the country.
We have witnesses that are now based in California or Arizona or New Mexico. Some courts that
we practice in allow telephonic witnesses, so we bring a motion that allows a witness
to appear telephonically. But we have the documentary evidence. If it’s available, we
have the application. We have the last cardmember agreement that was effective at the time of
charge-off. We have billing statements. We can establish where the billing statements
were mailed to. We can establish the data points that the consumer provided when the
credit was issued. Now, the older the card—and this is one
of the issues that come up—the older the account, the less likely it is that there
is an application still on file, because the banking rules did not require, and still do
not require an application for credit to be maintained more than, I believe, 2 years,
and if the card was opened in 1989 and it goes into fault in 2014, the odds are you’re
not going to have a signed application. But you have a pattern of usage, you have billing
statements. Our practice is, we have the evidence necessary
to satisfy the burden of proof at time of trial to convince a judge to give me a judgment,
based on the legal standard that I have to satisfy at the time. Well, I think there’s something important
that has to be mentioned in this particular ramification. As a licensed attorney, you’re
under an ethical obligation to ensure that any suit that you’re filing on behalf of a
client has merit. In Colorado and New Mexico, there are statutes that actually provide for
sanctions for frivolous and groundless claims, and, based on that, if you’re a licensed attorney
bringing these types of cases, you need to conduct a reasonable investigation into the
lawsuit and the materials before you file the lawsuit, in order to establish and satisfy
your professional, ethical obligations. It’s also in the best interest of your client to
always do that, because it’s expensive to litigate. Regardless of where you’re litigating and
how much you’re litigating over, the cost associated with litigation is important to
keep in mind, and my clients are not going to be throwing away—and right now I’m in-house
counsel, but previously my clients weren’t throwing away money filing frivolous suits,
because they don’t get them recovered. You have to be able to obtain the judgment, and
you have to satisfy the judge. In Colorado and New Mexico, there are specific elements
that they are requiring before a judge will even consider granting you a judgment. Again, so you know, would that Makyla’s ethics
were followed by the entire industry, we would not have had a robosigning scandal on the
level of the mortgage scandal that we had over on the credit card debt collection realm.
For whatever reason, these folks did not take their ethical obligations as seriously as
they should have, and we needed to build into the Fair Debt Buying Practices Act requirements
that would enforce, perhaps, those sorts of basic standards that you didn’t think you
would have to actually spell out, and one of them is a private right of action. You
can go after folks who are violating that standard. But the other piece is that you can have all
the good law you want in the world, but it has to be enforced, and if all of these cases
are in a world where, and there are certainly counties in California where this is still
very much true, most collection cases are going by default, there’s no one on the other
side. One last question from the audience before
I have a final question for the panel, and this is, I guess, to combine two questions
here, which are almost identical. People wanted to know, from Harvey and Makyla, basically,
what percentage of the suits you file end up in default judgments? That’s funny you should ask. I was trying
to figure that out. We actually ran some reports in anticipation of some metrics that we’re
running, because we look at these types of things. From what I can tell right now, it’s
under 50 percent. It’s ranging somewhere between 45 and 50 percent of the files that we file
go by default judgment. Well, again, as I indicated earlier, there’s
a difference between what’s a default judgment and what’s an acknowledge of judgment, and
the courts and our computer systems and everything that we track don’t discriminate between an
acknowledgement of judgment and a default judgment. We just call them first appearance
judgments. Sometimes, within the office, we call them default judgments, even though they’re
acknowledgements of judgments. And it’s going to depend on the county that you’re in. it’s
going to depend on the jurisdiction and the nature of the debt, in particular, and what
type of lawsuit you’re filing. I would say, on average, on our first appearance judgments,
we’re ending up with probably between 60 and 70 percent, but that also includes a fair
number of those are actually acknowledgements of judgments. I’d like to finish up here by asking each
of the panelists to identify one change that they would suggest that the CFPB or FTC consider
doing that can make the litigation system better for Latino and LEP consumers. Also,
if you’d like, feel free to offer any final thoughts, final rebuttals, on anything else
you’ve heard today or you’d like to raise. Why don’t we start with Jose and go down the
line. I would say, in regards to making sure clients
are aware of their rights, the issue of information being in Spanish, which is already being done.
I think as clients reach out to us, legal service providers, I think our role is to
make sure that they understand that they have options, that they understand where they are
in the collection process, and to the extent that we can work together with the FTC and
other government agencies, it makes our resources that much greater, because we have limited
resources. So in that regard, I think the issue of just making sure information is available
in Spanish. Thank you. Joseph? I’ll add to Jose’s point. I think CFPB and
FTC could be public service announcements on television, radio, ethnic media, Spanish-speaking
media. I think that’s very important. Obviously, you’ll need to develop the message, but, as
Jose said, people need to be aware of their rights, and one of the best ways to do it
is through media. I think that’s the best way to reach folks out there, who otherwise
might not know about their rights. Thank you. Ted? I’ll start with your second part and then
I’ll finish on what you’re actually asking for. On something that was left in the air
a little on the previous panel, is what does SB 233 have to say about the statute of limitations
after all? For debt buyers, there is an absolute bar on suits filed after the statute of limitations
has passed. There are notice requirements drawn from actual past FTC cases that require
a statement that the statute of limitation has passed, and we cannot sue you. That’s
if it’s older than 4 years. If it’s older than 7 years, that we cannot and will not
report this to a credit reporting agency. What can the FTC and CFPB do? Broadly and
then narrowly. Broadly, something that also came up in the prior panel. It is clear that
there are particular scams targeting immigrant communities, LEP Latinos, in particular, that
result in debt collection, and that, oh, you heard about it earlier, but this is really
Rigo’s grandma that ordered this herbal product, and you just wanted one, and lo and behold,
somehow you’ve signed up for something that they tell you is ongoing, and that you have
to pay them every month. And you say, “No, that’s not what I did. Go
away,” and the next person that calls you is the debt collector, and they’re trying
to collect. And you say to the debt collector, “I didn’t. Just stop,” and they say, “Well,
I’m just a debt collector. You’ve got to talk to the seller in the first place.” You go
back to the seller, and the seller says, “Well, I don’t know about that debt collector, but
would you like to buy some more product?” [Laughter.] That’s a current a client of ours. So, all
agencies here have jurisdiction to take on the scams that result in the bad debt collection
that we’re talking about. And then, finally, to answer your question, Tom, in your rule-making
you might consider making it explicit, under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices
Act, that it is illegal to make a threat, direct or indirect, based on the immigration
status of the consumer. Thank you. Makyla? That’s a tough one to actually consider, because
if you’re looking at it in the context of litigation, which is the purpose of this particular
panel, I don’t want to tread on a co-equal branch of government’s jurisdiction and purview
here, so just working with that other branch of government to have some more uniformity
and guidelines. I mean, we’re all happy to have very specific guidelines. You give us,
if you want, notices in a particular way, written, give us that verbatim, please. We’re
happy to sue that. Harvey, the last word? I’m a little selfish, just a little. I heard
a figure thrown out today that the CFPB has recovered approximately $5.1 billion. It’s
$5.71 billion? It’s $5.75 billion. So you asked what the CFPB could do to help LEP Latinos
in the litigation process. There are, according to the study I have, which is a migration
policy issue, 6,867,200 LEP Latinos in the state of California. I would love the CFPB
to help the state of California fund its language access program so that we can get language
access for the LEP Latinos in the California court system, because it certainly isn’t going
to come from the budgets we have. Okay. Well, thank you all very much for all
your insightful and thoughtful comments, and thanks to the audience for the excellent questions
you submitted. I’d ask people to stay in their places because we’re going to do a switch
and have another panel come up here and begin, without a break in between, but I’d also like
to ask everyone to give a round of applause to our panelists. [Applause.]

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