One of my first jobs out of law school was at New Economy Project (NEP), where I launched a free consumer legal advice hotline for low-income New Yorkers with Brooks Fellowship funding support from NCLC. At the time, there were almost no consumer legal services for low-income people in New York City, and the hotline absolutely exploded.
I received so much support from NCLC (especially Stuart Rossman, who was and is still an amazing mentor) and from the wider consumer law community in those early years as we figured out how to advocate for people on consumer law issues and build a community of consumer law advocates in New York City. The Consumer Rights Litigation Conference (CRLC) in particular was such a wealth of information and ideas, and was a critical entry point into a whole network of experts and attorneys who were invested in our work.
The first client I represented at New Economy Project was a domestic violence survivor who called our hotline because her bank account was frozen. She couldn’t access the money she needed to pay rent, was at imminent risk of eviction, had no food for her kids, and had no idea who the debt collector was or where the debt came from. We investigated and found that her abusive ex-husband had stolen her identity in order to take out multiple credit cards, and a debt buyer had filed false documents asserting that she had been served when she hadn’t. I went into court on her behalf and I was able to get her bank account released, her judgement vacated, and the case dismissed — because of course, the debt buyer couldn’t actually prove that she owed anything.
This case was just the tip of the iceberg. Within about six months, we formed a coalition in order to get the Exempt Income Protection Act passed in the New York state legislature, which remains one of the strongest laws in the country preventing debt collectors from seizing people’s subsistence income in their bank accounts.
A few years later, we filed a major lawsuit (with Mobilization for Justice and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Mazel) against the same debt buyer that had tried to collect fraudulent debt from my first client, and that case settled with approximately 350,000 people having their debts forgiven, 200,000 fraudulently-obtained judgments vacated, and a settlement fund of $59 million. I love to tell this story because it’s a great illustration of the ripple effect you can have when you go to bat for a client. We started out helping a single client and ended up winning justice for hundreds of thousands of people. That’s the kind of outcome that keeps me coming back day after day to fight for ordinary people who have been wronged.
Since coming to NCLEJ in 2015, I’ve combined a consumer and civil rights litigation practice. I’ve challenged the taking of driver’s licenses as punishment for failure to pay court fines in Tennessee, discriminatory policing for profit in Buffalo, NY, unconstitutional medical debt collection practices in Kentucky, and a debtor’s prison scheme in Montgomery, AL. No matter the issue, NCLC is an incredible resource, and I’m honored to be part of the consumer law community as we join the broader fight for racial and economic justice.