Mark Bennett at Defending People picked up a bit at Courthouse News Service about debt collection law firm Gurstel Chargo. Their motto is “accountability matters,” backed up by this insightful and ironic prose.
It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.
If there is such a thing as karma, now is the time for a damn good ass-biting. The Gurstel firm is apparently overwhelmingly proud of its ability to collect monies, whether due or not and no matter what it has to do to get it. And so it garnished the exempt income of a fully disabled army veteran, Michael Collier*.
Gurstel Chargo’s response to a disabled veteran trying to recover $6,000 of ungarnishable money that Gurstel Chargo had garnished, after the firm had told a judge that the firm would release the money “right away.”Right away is what O’Brien told the judge. but right away never came. Collier subsequently called Gurstel Chargo, requesting the garnishment be lifted as was promised to the judge. This is what he was told:
Fuck you! Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces your ass. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off social security while the rest of us honest Americans work our ass off. Too bad; you should have died.
Accountability. Isn’t it a wonderful thing? From a legal assistant at the firm came the words “fuck you” to Michael Collier. But this isn’t merely a story of one bad apple, but of a law firm (note, this is not merely a debt collection agency, but a law firm, subject to the full panoply of ethical considerations and disciplinary rules that apply to us all) built upon a marketing approach that claims to have “developed sophisticated systems and instituted soft-touch collection practices that produce favorable results.”
On the bright side, it appears that not all lawyers are as scummy at O’Brien.
The veteran, Michael Collier, can now, as it turns out, afford a lawyer. Floyd Bybee of Chandler, Arizona, has filed suit against Gurstel Chargo for, among other things, violating the Fair Debt Collections Act. (Complaint.) Gurstel Chargo is being sued in eight other federal cases in Arizona, Minnesota, and Ohio.
Accountability matters. I certainly hope so. What happened here may not be the norm, even within the ranks of one of the scummiest niches of legal practice. Of course, there was a reason why Congress felt compelled to enact the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, to clean up a cesspool of abuse. Unfortunately, it leaves it to the least capable and powerless to enforce, making it another promise usually unfulfilled. And lawyers inclined to abuse people are only too aware of this, taking advantage of people whenever possible.
Which makes it important that when something like this occurs, people know about, particularly about the lawyers and firms that would engage in such conduct. This is why I add my voice to Bennett’s so you know. Lawyers do a lot of good. Lawyers also do bad. The bad must be stopped.
* These are, of course, merely accusations in a complaint by Collier against Gurstel Chargo, though it’s representation to the court that they improperly garnished exempt funds and failure to release them should be easily confirmable. On the other hand, after Bennett’s post appeared, the firm took down linked pages, forcing Mark to post the cached versions. Because, you know, law firms regularly take down embarrassing pages from their websites when someone calls them out. All the time. #Marketing101
Update: It appears that Gurstel Chargo isn’t thrilled with the attention they’ve received, and has issued a statement on their website:
We learned late last week of the lawsuit filed by Michael Andrew Collier and Kim Collier-Dingman. Gurstel Chargo takes the allegations made in the lawsuit very seriously and we have immediately launched an internal investigation to determine the facts. We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the Complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm. We expect that all Gurstel Chargo employees fully comply with all state and federal laws, and we thoroughly train our employees to perform their job in a lawful and respectful manner. Under no circumstances does our firm tolerate the type of conduct alleged in the Complaint.
The Complaint states that the wrongful remarks were made during a telephone call. We have requested from the attorney that filed the Complaint the phone number of the phone that Mr. Collier was allegedly on, an approximate date on which the call occurred, whether the person who made the alleged wrongful comments was male or female, all in order to help us to get to the truth about what occurred. We have been informed by Mr. Collier’s attorney that he is unaware of any of this information. To date, we have discovered no information to substantiate the allegations, but our investigation continues. Should these allegations prove to be true, we will take immediate corrective and disciplinary action. (Emphasis added.)
Shifty, disingenuous and, to the extent it reflects the culture of Gurstel Chargo, damning. Or, to put it another way, what one might expect.