Paul Bland

  • November 27, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director, Public Justice

    It has become common knowledge in Washington that, if you want to bury bad news, the best time to do so is on a Friday afternoon, or over a holiday weekend. So it is especially telling that, when it came time to strike at one of the most effective agencies in the federal government, the Trump Administration chose a two-for and announced its plans for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Friday evening over Thanksgiving weekend. While most of the country was (the White House hoped) distracted by black Friday sales and family gatherings, President Trump announced he had installed Mick Mulvaney – who once referred to the CFPB as a “sad sick joke” – as acting director of the agency. The move is just the latest in a long line of Presidential appointments designed to dismantle government agencies from the inside by placing their fiercest critics in charge of their work. But Trump’s move at the CFPB is probably illegal, politically risky, and could backfire in a big way.

  • May 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director, Public Justice

    *This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.

    Banks and payday lenders have had a good deal going for a while: They could break the law, trick their customers in illegal ways, and not have to face any consumer lawsuits. Armed by some pretty bad 5-4 Supreme Court decisions, they could hide behind Forced Arbitration clauses (fine print contracts that say consumers can’t go to court even when a bank acts illegally), even when it was clear that the arbitration clauses made it impossible for a consumer to protect their rights.

    But the free ride is coming to an end. After an extensive study, that proved beyond any doubt how unfair these fine print clauses have been for consumers, the CFPB is taking a strong step to reign in these abusive practices. In a new rule, the CFPB says banks can no longer use forced arbitration clauses to ban consumers from joining together in class action lawsuits. That means banks can no longer just wipe away the most effective means consumers often have for fighting illegal behavior.

    This is a common sense rule that will go a long way in combating some of the financial industry’s worst practices.

  • December 31, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Leslie Bailey, Staff Attorney, and Paul Bland, Executive Director, Public Justice. This post first appeared at the Public Justice Blog.

    USA Today has run a startling and powerful editorial that shines a bright light on a dark practice. All too often, corporations that have manufactured defective and sometimes deadly products, or are engaged in other severely illegal behavior, ask courts to cover up the wrongdoing. Through the excessive use of secrecy orders, far too many courts have sealed evidence and allowed corporations to conceal facts that – if they had become publicly known – would have stopped dangerous and illegal behavior.

    In particular, USA Today focuses on the case of Rich Barber, whom we had the privilege of successfully representing in a challenge to abusive court secrecy. Rich’s son was killed because a Remington rifle had fired without the trigger being pulled due to a design defect that Remington knew about and concealed for decades. USA Today argues that a pattern developed over a number of cases: a particular plaintiff would discover key internal documents of the gun manufacturer relating to the defect and its knowledge, and Remington would settle the cases and demand (and get) broad secrecy orders sealing up the evidence. As a result, the public didn’t learn of the defect for many years, and many more people died. 

    USA Today notes that Rich Barber’s work, and that of Public Justice, helped break down this wall of secrecy. Rich championed important legislation in Montana that now restricts courts from sealing records in cases involving public safety.

    I urge you to read USA Today’s editorial in its entirety, and to share it with others. Its editorial board put the entire problem in perspective:

    Clever use of court secrecy – confidential settlements and ‘protective orders’ to seal documents – helped keep evidence of the rifle’s potential dangers under wraps. Had court documents been public, injuries might have been prevented and lives saved. 

  • August 24, 2010
    Guest Post

    By F. Paul Bland, Jr., senior attorney at Public Justice.
    The consumer and civil rights communities are closely watching AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a case that will be argued in the Supreme Court this November. The case could decide the fate of most consumer and employee class actions for years to come.

    The Concepcion case involves the widespread corporate practice of using standard-form contract terms that purport to prevent consumers and employees from ever participating in class proceedings. Consumers and employees rarely have time to read the lengthy agreements companies send them, let alone the ability to understand their dense legalese. And even if they did, few consumers or employees could negotiate the contracts' terms.

    Many federal and state courts have held such class-action bans unenforceable under state laws providing that contract terms that block individuals from enforcing their rights under consumer protection and civil rights laws. Hoping to sweep aside many of those cases, AT&T Mobility ("ATTM") has asked the Supreme Court to find that at least some of that state law is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA").

    Class-action bans dramatically undermine enforcement of consumer- and employee-protection laws. In many circumstances, very few individuals would ever bring a claim (in court, or in a small claims court, or in arbitration) even when those laws are broken. Many people never realize when their rights are violated, for example, and many people do not have the knowledge or skills to begin to pursue a case to protect their rights. For those who know to seek out a lawyer, very few lawyers will handle cases that are quite small, and few if any lawyers will handle fairly complex cases that involve only a few thousand dollars. There are many situations where a case will either be handled on a class action basis or it will never be brought at all.

    In the worst case scenario, Concepcion could wipe away the vast majority of consumer and employee class actions for years to come. But that result is far from inevitable. For one thing, ATTM submitted a narrow question in its petition for certiorari, and if the Court sticks to the question presented (as it should), then the decision should be limited. On the merits, if the Court agrees with the vast majority of lower courts, then the decision will change little. If the Court uses this case to grant the fondest wishes of some corporate lawyers for immunity, however, then this case could have the kind of impact on class actions that an asteroid landing in Mexico millions of years ago had on dinosaurs.