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.
The announcement today by the City of Cleveland that the officers involved in the shooting death of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice have been disciplined has only added insult to the pain and grief of the Rice family. Although pleased with the termination of Officer Timothy Loehmann, the decision says nothing about his unlawful actions in shooting young Tamir without cause or justification. Loehmann was terminated not for causing Tamir’s death but rather for lying on his employment application.
The Rice family is disheartened by the decision to suspend Officer Frank Garmback for a mere 10 days where it has been determined that he failed to employ proper tactics when he drove directly up to Tamir thus contributing to the chain of events that resulted in Tamir’s shooting.
Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, described the discipline as “deeply disappointing. I am relieved Loehmann has been fired because he should never have been a police officer in the first place—but he should have been fired for shooting my son in less than one second, not just for lying on his application. And Garmback should be fired too, for his role in pulling up too close to Tamir. As we continue to grieve for Tamir, I hope this is a call for all of us to build stronger communities together.”
Tamir’s family is represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward, and Zoe Salzman, together with William Mills of FirmEquity and Subodh Chandra of The Chandra Law Firm LLC.
Emery Celli Brickerhoff & Abady joined activist group Free Speech for the People to ask the New York Attorney General to shut down the Trump Organization for serial violations of state law. As the Washington Post reported, the groups argue in a 24-page letter that “the combination of past legal abuses and current conflicts of interests constituted such a pattern of corporate misbehavior that the attorney general ought to revoke the company’s charter.” The letter states: “By continuing to operate under Trump family ownership and control with President Trump in the White House, the Trump Organization flagrantly abuses its state-granted powers, contrary to the public policies of New York against corruption and conflicts of interest, and contrary to the U.S. Constitution.” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said he would review the letter. ECBA partners Jonathan Abady and Andrew G. Celli, Jr. are working on this matter.
Click here to read the letter in full, and click here to read WNYC’s coverage of the effort.
The Washington Post published an opinion piece by ECBA partners Jonathan Abady and Ilann Maazel about the Jill-Stein-sponsored and ECBA-led recount effort in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. They urge Americans not to “ignore the lessons of the past weeks and preserve the status quo that is our broken voting system.”
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.
The City of New York has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought by ECBA and the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project for the assault and beating of Michael Cruz. In June 2014, multiple officers beat Mr. Cruz so badly that they broke his rib, which eventually pierced his spleen and led to massive internal bleeding. The assault and resulting injuries were life-threatening. Mr. Cruz, who was only 20 years old at the time, was forced to undergo emergency surgery to remove his spleen.
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.”
On April 25, 2016, the City of Cleveland agreed to a $6 million payment to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit that arose from the tragic death of Tamir Rice. This settlement has received extensive coverage in the national and local press.