Public Justice produced videos for the finalists for the 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. This one summarizes the Sykes v. Harris case, a years-long litigation in which ECBA, MFY Legal Services, and the New Economy Project won $60 million for a class of consumers victimized by illegal debt collection practices.
Public Justice has announced that the attorneys for Sykes v. Mel S. Harris & Associates, LLC are finalists for the organization’s 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. ECBA co-counseled with MFY Legal Services and the New Economy Project to bring a federal class action challenging a fraudulent debt collection scheme.
Under the settlement negotiated by the legal team after six years of hard-fought litigation, the defendants paid nearly $60 million to class members. They also agreed to exit the debt collection business and to extinguish all outstanding consumer debt that was part of the scheme, which had a total face value of over $1 billion. In a cutting edge component of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to cooperate with a supplementary state court proceeding to vacate the default judgments en masse and, as a result, nearly 200,000 fraudulently-obtained default judgments have been vacated. More on the case and the settlement is available here.
ECBA brought suit on behalf of Keith Mitchell against the NYPD detective who wrongfully arrested and prosecuted him for a burglary and assault he did not commit. Mr. Mitchell spent more than two years at Rikers Island waiting for a trial to clear his name before being acquitted by a jury. To read the New York Daily News’ coverage of this lawsuit click here. Mr. Mitchell is represented by Debra L. Greenberger and Doug Lieb.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the City of Miami has standing under the Fair Housing Act to sue banks that engaged in predatory lending, triggering foreclosures and other harms throughout the City. ECBA filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the City’s position, on behalf of Miami’s firefighters and first responders who have had to cope with an increase in crimes and other problems festering in foreclosed, vacant properties. The brief was authored by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Debra Greenberger, and Zoe Salzman.
The Bronx Supreme Court granted ECBA’s motion for class certification of a case challenging New York City’s practice of imprisoning people at Rikers Island based on requests by federal immigration authorities prior to December 21, 2012. The case, Onadia v. City of New York, 0300340/2010, alleges that the City had no basis to imprison the thousands of class members who were held for days and even weeks past their scheduled release date based on these immigration requests. For more information see the New York Law Journal’s coverage; you can also read the decision here. The class is represented by ECBA attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff and Debbie Greenberger and co-counsel Ameer Benno.
In the first ever legal effort to challenge election results in multiple jurisdictions for a Presidential contest in the United States, ECBA is representing Jill Stein and her campaign in election integrity efforts and attempts to obtain recounts in three states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Stein filed petitions for recount in Michigan and Wisconsin, and mobilized voters to seek recounts in Pennsylvania. ECBA has litigated various state and federal actions to pursue those recount requests. The most recent information and filings concerning the rapidly-changing developments in the three states are available here for Pennsylvania, here for Michigan, and here for Wisconsin.
The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady announced a settlement in the case of Bradley Ballard, whose horrific death at Rikers Island in 2013 was ruled a homicide. The settlement of $5,750,000 is the largest ever entered into by New York City for a death in custody.
Mr. Ballard, 39, was a seriously mentally ill and diabetic man who died in 2013 due to the abuse and cruelty of Department of Correction staff and the medical providers on Rikers Island. From the moment Mr. Ballard arrived at Rikers, on a parole violation for failing to change a report of address, his serious medical and mental health needs were mishandled by the City’s health care contractor at the time, Corizon Health, Inc. The abuse took a macabre turn when Department of Correction staff illegally shut him in his cell as a rogue punishment for perceived rudeness, leaving him to decompensate without medication or treatment for his schizophrenia and diabetes. For seven days, until Mr. Ballard died on September 11, 2013, correction and medical staff walked by the locked cell without offering assistance, turned off the water to his cell, and ignored his obvious and fatally deteriorating state until it was too late.
Mr. Ballard’s death was unusual in its gruesomeness, and his suffering was unmatched as reflected by the historic settlement. But the torture he endured resulted from longstanding and known system failures that have plagued Rikers healthcare and supervision of medical and correction staff. In 2015, Corizon’s contract for healthcare was finally cancelled, though many of the correction staff who so woefully failed in their duties remain in the jails. Mr. Ballard’s family can only hope that the City can usher in a new era of basic humanity and competence at Rikers. They hope that the settlement will spark a rigorous review of the cascade of failures and misconduct that caused Mr. Bradley’s premature and painful death. No other patient, and no family, should have to endure their suffering.
On June 30, 2016, the Second Circuit reversed the District Court’s approval of a class action settlement concerning the fees Visa and Mastercard charge merchants for accepting credit cards. ECBA represents the leading merchant trade groups that objected to the settlement, The National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association. ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Debra L. Greenberger wrote one of the two primary objecting merchant appeals briefs; Mr. Celli and ECBA attorney Diane Houk handled the case in the District Court.
A federal court approved the settlement on behalf of New Yorkers who alleged fraudulent debt collection practices. The $60 million settlement in the case, captioned Sykes v. Mel S. Harris and Associates LLC, No. 09 Civ. 8486 (S.D.N.Y), is the largest ever of its kind. The settlement should also lead to the unprecedented vacating of approximately 195,000 court judgments and result in the forgiveness of over $1 billion in alleged debt. Plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleged that that Defendants used fraudulent practices to file debt collection lawsuits, obtain default judgments, and then collect on those judgments.
Judge Denny Chin found that the settlement is a “remarkable resolution” to “hard fought litigation” that will bring “extraordinarily meaningful benefits to tens of thousands of individuals.” He concludes that the settlement will have an “immediate and enormously positive impact on the lives of many.”