Tag Archives: Attorney General

We’re Making Progress in Debt Collection Reform

As a membership organization with nearly 10,000 members, issues of public policy and opportunities to comment and suggest reforms routinely present themselves to the Boston Bar Association (BBA).  The BBA Council has adopted policy positions on a wide variety of issues.  Once a position has been approved, many of our members wonder, “What now?”

The answer usually depends on timing – the timing of Council approval in relation to what the Legislature is focusing on at that particular moment.  The salience of an issue often dictates how much traction it will have in the Legislature and other governmental agencies.  Unfortunately, forecasting what will capture the attention of government officials is more of an art than a science.  So advancing BBA positions demands patience and perseverance.

Just one example. . .When word came to the BBA last Friday that the Attorney General was submitting proposed updates to its Debt Collection Regulations to provide stronger consumer protections, we were thrilled.  As noted in Issue Spot last August, the BBA’s Consumer Finance Committee wrote a report proposing updates to the current regulations to reflect the real world today.

Many of the proposed updates submitted by the BBA group are found in the proposal submitted by the Attorney General’s Office.  These changes will provide substantial relief for debtors that have been subjected to unfair collection practices not covered by the current regulations.

Before the regulations are updated, there is a comment period and a hearing scheduled on May 18th.  Members of the BBA Consumer Finance Committee will present testimony on the Attorney General’s proposal to express the BBA’s support for these important modernizations of debt collection practices.  The BBA is proud to work with the Attorney General’s Office and all other agencies where the expertise of our membership can be useful.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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D-Day for DOMA

Yesterday’s decision by President Obama to no longer defend the constitutionality of a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) came as a surprise.  The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) determined that DOMA is unconstitutional , an argument that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has used in the Massachusetts lawsuit challenging the law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Currently, there are DOMA cases pending in the First Circuit Court of Federal Appeals.  Both the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (“GLAD”) and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office have succeeded in the Federal District Court challenging DOMA, and the DOJ has appealed.  The lawsuits argue, among other things, that the federal definitions of “marriage” and “spouse” are sexual orientation based classifications that should be found unconstitutional.

The DOJ’s new refusal to defend DOMA does not mean this litigation will go away.  It simply means that the DOJ will not stand in any of the DOMA cases.  A little-known statute, 28 USC 530D, declares that if the DOJ decides not to defend a case, notice must be given to Congress.  Congress then has the right to appoint its own attorney to intervene and defend the law.  With no clear guidelines as to the application of this statute, it’s hard to predict how Congress will respond.

A look at our recent involvement reveals the BBA has been active on issues of discrimination, civil rights and same-sex marriage.  Here’s a brief timeline of how the BBA has participated in this debate in the past.

  • In October 2002, the BBA filed an independent amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health arguing that denying them civil marriage licenses violated the Massachusetts Constitution.
  • In October 2003, the BBA Council voted unanimously to support legislation that would allow for same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.
  • In December 2003, the BBA Council voted unanimously to sign the following resolution stating clearly the BBA position on the issue:

“We, the BBA, unequivocally support the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, to stop denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage licenses and all of the protections and responsibilities conferred by legal marriage. The government should treat all people equally and fairly under the law. We also unequivocally oppose any attempt to change the constitution of Massachusetts in order to discriminate against same-sex couples.”

  • In 2004, the BBA testified before the Massachusetts legislature in opposition to a bill that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
  • In January 2005, the BBA Council voted unanimously to draft an independent BBA amicus brief supporting GLAD’s position in the Cote-Whiteacre v. Dept. of Pub Health case arguing that the 1913 statute, which prevents non-resident couples from marrying in Massachusetts if that marriage would be void in their home state, is unconstitutional.

As an organization that supports civil rights for all, the BBA will keep an eye on Congress in the coming weeks.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Finance Reform is Important for Consumers

As announced in this week’s BBA Week, the Consumer Finance Working Group is now the Consumer Finance Committee.  The Committee will review consumer finance products and assess recent problems that have arisen.  Composed of lawyers who practice in the Massachusetts state courts and in the federal court, and who represent both creditors and debtors, the timing of the group’s work could not be better as national attention has focused on matters of consumer protection.

Just last month, Attorney General Martha Coakley joined President Barack Obama as he signed into law the historic financial reforms included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  That bill creates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help protect consumers when they make investments, take out mortgages, and use credit cards.

Here’s a snapshot at what the BBA has been doing in this area.

Since Spring 2008, the BBA’s Consumer Finance Working Group has been looking at several issues including the proliferation of deceptive “loan modification programs” on the radio and Internet, and the explosion in consumer medical debt and issues with consumer medical debt collections.  Adam Ruttenberg and Andrew Dennington, co-chairs of the Consumer Finance Working Group and now of the Consumer Finance Committee, focused their efforts on amending the Attorney General regulations on consumer debt collection after meeting members of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.  The group proposed amendments to the AG regulations which would largely track the more modern federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and recent revisions of Massachusetts Division of Banks regulations regarding activities by licensed debt collectors.  These amendments were included in the First Report of Consumer Finance Working Group and will ensure that debt collection practices that are unfair or deceptive when conducted by a licensed debt collector, will likewise be unfair or deceptive when performed by a creditor. 

After the BBA Council approved the Report and the recommendations at its July meeting, they were submitted to the Attorney General’s office.  Building upon the momentum generated by the First Report, the new Consumer Finance Committee held their first official meeting on August 10th to explore options for their next project.  In the meantime, on September 15th the Consumer Finance Committee will co-sponsor a CLE on the implementation of the new consumer protection legislation.  The CLE will feature a panel discussion on topics such as the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, enhancement of bank-affiliate and bank-insider transaction restrictions, and anti-predatory lending provisions.

– Kathleen M. Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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