Warning about Debt Management Scams

I’m looking this morning at the March 15th tip of the day from Kim Komando. It’s a rather long article entitled Beware of debt management offers. She describes three different types of programs which one will find when running a Google search: 1) Debt negotiation, 2) debt consolidation, and 3) debt elimination. Personally I would like to add one more type: 4)debt management.

The third one – debt elimination – is always a scam. These are people who are trying to sell information that they claim is secret that you can use to make your debt just go away entirely. If anybody tells you they have that sort of a program, which sometimes is in the form of a magic form you can fill out and then send to the creditors, run away as fast as you can. There is no such program.

Debt negotiation or debt consolidation programs may or may not be legitimate. The Komando article suggests that you should make sure that any agency you use is licensed by your state and also accredited by one of two organizations, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. I would also suggest that you make sure they are on the approved Department of Justice list for counseling programs acceptable for the pre-filing and post-filing credit counseling required by the bankruptcy statute. You can find a link to the Department of Justice list of approved bankruptcy counseling agencies on my web page at http://www.mn-bankruptcy.com/chapter7.html. At that page click on “Credit Counseling Requirement.”

My two favorite local places to go for real counseling are Lutheran Social Services and Family Means. Both have offices fairly close to my office. Both are non-profit. Both do debt management, my Item 4 on the above list. Debt management might involve negotiation, but not necessarily. They are not trying to make money out of your desperate situation. They are tying to figure out how to get you on a payment plan that will actually work. And if that is a hopeless idea for you, they will tell you and suggest that you talk to someone like me.

My Dentist, My Accountant and Me.

This week I have gone to see both my dentist and my accountant. I like both of these guys, but going to see them tends to be a painful experience. I need both of these guys, but I wish I didn’t.

I suspect that the way I feel about seeing my dentist and my accountant may provide some insight into how people feel when they need to come see me for legal advice or representation. I am fairly certain that very few of my clients are glad about being my client – in fact none are glad about it. While I am certainly glad to see them, seeing me or having anything to do with me must certainly be difficult. If my clients had a choice, I’m sure they’d rather be somewhere else.

I mentioned these thoughts to one of my clients, who stated as follows : “I’m glad to have the company, but I’d rather have a different topic.” Credit to him for putting it profoundly and succinctly.

I’ll share one more fact. Between the dentist and the accountant, I’d rather go see the dentist.

Come on Vacation, leave on Probation

I had to post this. I just heard from one of my lawyer buddies that the above is the slogan of the prosecutors for Aitkin County. Apparently is stems from a propensity for certain individuals to get arrested while ice fishing or snowmobiling in that county.

I have seen similar situations where individuals from out of state get arrested in the Twin Cities for DWI while here on business or for a wedding or funeral. I can’t explain why, but for some reason in my experience this seems to happen a lot in Eden Prarie. Typically after returning home they find me through my Minnesota DWI web site and retain my services.

Credit Card Industry Profits Increased

I find myself looking at a 32 page report, complete with colorful graphs and charts, written by a gentleman by the name of Michael Simkovic. Mr. Simkovic was a fellow in law and economics at Harvard Law School between 2006 and 2007. He published this report last July. His subject is the effect of the 2005 “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.” Many of us call that BAPCPA (pronounced “bapceepa“).

The report begins by reminding us that supporters had claimed that ultimately this law would benefit consumers, because it would lower the cost of credit card debt. The data shows, however, that while credit card company losses decreased, and the card companies had record profits, costs to consumers actually increased. “In other words,” says Mr. Simkovic, “the 2005 bankruptcy reform profited credit card companies at consumers’ expense.”

No big surprise there. But thanks to Mr. Simkovic for laying out the details and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt. This seems to be very consistent with a series of articles published in the Star Tribune last October which stated, among other things, that BAPCPA has been one of the contributors to our current economic meltdown.

Regime change without gunfire.

Before I was licensed to practice law, I was licensed to teach history. Like everyone else in this country, I have been watching the attention being given to the ritual unfolding in Washington, D.C. A lot of attention is being given to various details of the event. Underlying it all, however, is a tradition that I haven’t seen anybody say anything about; and this tradition is something that we should give ourselves much more credit for than we do.

The tradition I’m talking about is that every four years, or at the least every eight, we have a peaceful regime change in Washington. It’s been going on for over 230 years. The old president steps down and a new guy takes over, without troops having to be called in, without an assassination, without brown shirts taking over the TV and radio stations, without a civil war. I believe if a study were to be done of the subject, going back say three hundred years, and covering the entire globe, it would be found that in the vast majority of places during the vast majority of the time, regimes don’t change without somebody getting killed or something being blown up.

So lets all enjoy the party, and let’s all be very proud. Notwithstanding all the imperfections, nobody else and nowhere else has anybody come this close to getting it right.

Sorry, my web pages were down for a while today …

Godaddy is the server that hosts my web pages. I don’t know what their problem was, but for several hours today all my web pages were down and not accessible. Whatever the problem was, it’s fixed now and everything is back up.

If you were tying to view one of my web pages and could not, it wasn’t something wrong with your computer. It was the company that hosts my sites. My apologies for the inconvenience.

The thing I noticed that sort of surprises me is how much I missed the pages myself. They contain all sorts of charts, tables and reference materials that I use regularly. One of the reasons I have for posting all the material that I have up on my various pages is so that I can find it myself when I need it.

Restless nights

Friday night this past weekend and again on Saturday night, between 12:30 am and about 3:30 am, I was awakened by calls from individuals who had been arrested for DWI and who were in the custody of police. Before being required to take a breath, blood or urine test, a suspect has a right to speak with a lawyer by telephone. In both cases, the arrested person had called someone else who looked up my DWI web site and then passed my cell number back to the person under arrest.

Often when I receive these calls I find that the person on the other end of the phone is seriously considering refusing to take the test that is being offered. This is a serious mistake, since a test refusal is a separate crime in itself. Besides being a crime, the test refusal carries with it a one year revocation of one’s driving license. So far I have always recommended that the person take the test. It is hard for me to imagine a situation when I would not recommend that.

When I receive one of these calls, I try to find out as much information about the arrest as I can. Sometimes this can involve staying on the phone with the “suspect” for as long as half an hour or so. The result is that often I know things about what went on that the police report may not include and that the potential client may not remember.

Usually after receiving one of these calls I can’t sleep for about an hour, maybe longer. I’ll admit that having this two nights in a row was a tad hard on me. If this seems a little disjointed, that’s probably why.

Excused!

Friday morning – yesterday – I was instructed to report to the jury room at the Hennepin County Government Center for jury duty. After listening to a little talk about how things worked, twenty of us were run through security and led up to judge McGunnigle’s courtroom. As soon as I walked in I knew I would not be there very long. At the tables in the front of the courtroom sat two lawyers I knew, Rolph Sponheim for the prosecution and Marsh Halberg for the defense. These were both people I know, particularly Mr. Sponheim. Judge McGunnigle explained that the Defendant had been charged with a DWI. He didn’t say whether it was a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony. I could tell that it was no misdemeanor, however, since they were obviously looking to set up a jury of twelve, and with a misdemeanor you only get a jury of six.

I was seated as Juror No. 3. The judge started asking questions to the prospective jurors as a group. One question was whether any of us had an experience which would influence our ability to be objective in this type of case – driving while intoxicated. Several hands went up, including mine. One person was employed in the “beverage industry.” One person has a brother who had been arrested for DWI. Another had relatives who were injured in an accident by a drunk driver. I disclosed that I had defended hundreds of this type of case, and it would be hard to say that this would not influence my decision.

The judge went into a little lecture about how experiences of this sort should be set aside and compartmentalized, and he asked if we could do that. All of those who had raised our hands, including me, said that we thought we could. One of the next questions was whether we knew any of the witnesses, whose names were read off for us, and did we know the Defendant or any of the lawyers. Again, I raised my hand. The judge asked me to explain. I said that I knew Mr. Halberg, not well but I did know him. Besides that, the younger lawyer he had brought along to assist him looked familiar, I had surely seen him around, although I did not know him by name. When it came to Mr. Sponheim, I said I thought I knew him well. I had innumerable cases in which he had been the prosecutor. Then Judge McGunnigle asked if knowing these people would keep me from being able to make a decision based only on the evidence which was to be presented. I said that I believed I have a working relationship with Mr. Sponheim, and that I thought that should disqualify me.

At this point the judge called the lawyers up to the bench for a little conference. A moment later I was excused from that case, but I was to report back to the jury room. Back at the jury room the clerk there said that since I had been on call all week, that I would be excused entirely from any further jury duty. My duty was completed. Must say I was a bit surprised but also relieved. I had another feeling, however, which surprised me. During the short time that I had been up in the courtroom, I had started getting interested in the case. I think I would have enjoyed being on that jury. I would have enjoyed watching those lawyers do their stuff, and I would have liked to see how it all came out.

The thought of going downtown to watch the trial just to see what happens next has occurred to me. They are open to the public, and a trial like that ought to take a couple of days at the least. I already feel behind in my work as a result of the distraction from this episode, however, and I know I don’t really have the time to go watch that trial. I should just count myself lucky to have this experience behind me.

I’ll be in the office Monday morning – no jury duty so far.

Tomorrow, Monday December 29, 2008, is supposed to be the first day of my jury duty with Hennepin County. I just checked with the phone line, and they will not be needing me – at least not tomorrow morning. So for those of you who have had an appointment with me in the morning, I’ll be planning on being there.

The next time I have to check to see if they want me will be 12:15 pm tomorrow afternoon. I am supposed to call in and see if they need me for Monday afternoon. This annoying process will continue for the next two weeks or so. This has meant that I have had to be careful to not be scheduling any court appearances for any of my own cases with my own clients over the next two weeks. Over the past three months or so, I have been making an effort to schedule hearings on all of my cases before Christmas, so that I would have an open schedule now. This made for a dramatically busy December. With that rush over, it seems a bit quiet now; except that I am on call to run downtown and report as a juror to hear a trial.

I’ll be reporting more as this unfolds.