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Don’t Change the Consumer Fraud Act

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2011 | Blog, Uncategorized |

The partnership at Costello & Mains, committed civil rights attorneys for two decades, announce their strong opposition to assembly bill A-3333, which would severely damage, in the firm’s view, the protections afforded by the Consumer Fraud Act. Partner Kevin Costello also sees this bill as an attack on private rights of citizens, rights which have been specially protected and given social value in New Jersey for many decades.

Assembly measure A-3333, says Kevin Costello, is the “clear product of a panicked economy” wherein legislators from both sides of the aisle feel pressure from commercial and business lobbies to pass laws advantageous to business and disadvantageous to individuals. “It’s a cycle we see any time there’s a panic,” Kevin says. “When times get tough, people become frightened. When people become frightened, there are always a few smart, cool-headed people who take advantage of that fright. During the stock market crash of the 1920s, these were smart investors who gobbled up the stocks that people were selling at low value and who afford to wait until the stocks reasserted their value after the crash. During any crisis, and certainly during the most recent crisis, the smartest people are the people who remain cool and calm and who exploit the fears of others.”

“This bill is clearly a product of that mentality,” Kevin says. “The business lobby waits for its business opportunities and takes maximum advantage at times of economic panic to slowly continue its agenda of rolling back protections for individual citizens and advancing the cause of corporate profits over the rights of families in New Jersey and in America. The more rights the corporations have, the less rights people have.”

The partners at Costello & Mains warn that this bill weakens this statute, which protects against all consumer fraud perpetrated against individuals and their families, in several significant ways. First of all, the way the law is currently written, it doesn’t matter how much the fraud was in terms of finding help from an attorney. This is so because a citizen who is defrauded by a commercial entity has the right to have their attorneys fees “shifted” away from themselves and onto the party perpetrating the illegal fraud. This is an important provision of the law, Kevin says, and removing it, as A-3333 does, removes a financial incentive for lawyers to protect victims from fraud. ‘How,’ Kevin asks, “Can someone who is defrauded of $100.00 or even $1,000.00 find redress if shifting fees are eliminated? What lawyer could possibly help somebody and put in the dozens or even hundreds of hours that a consumer fraud trial requires, if shifting fees are eliminated? This is the end of consumer fraud protection in New Jersey even though the supporters of the bill will make it sound otherwise,” Kevin says.

If fees are “capped” or otherwise tinkered with, and if judges are allowed to make fees discretionary rather than mandatory, it will completely remove the incentive to challenge consumer fraud practices in businesses. Even worse, businesses will be able to cheat lots of people out of a small amount of money, become enriched thereby, but depend on the fact that each individual will not be able to assert their rights because their rights are not financially significant enough to interest an attorney in what would amount to charity work in order to protect those rights.

“It’s like saying that fraud only matters if it’s above a certain amount,” Kevin says. This is nothing less than a cynical and ill-advised attack on the people and families of this state, regardless of their political or social or cultural backgrounds, and it hurts everyone except a few businesses that practice fraud as part of their business plan. This is a huge mistake.”

Costello & Mains strongly opposes the bill and urges its friends and clients to voice their strong opposition to the bill’s measures. “Any attack on rights which don’t have a lot of economic value but have a great deal of moral value and which are protected by ‘fee shifting’ is an attempt to attack all such rights,” Kevin says. “We cannot allow businesses to take advantage of times of stress like this, when they already have it so good in this state. This is nothing but cynical greed and it has to be stopped. The fact that this is a “bipartisan” bill only makes it more seductive and dangerous. Whether you’re a democrat or a republican, you need to oppose this bill in clear terms and let your legislators know that you are going to hold them accountable if they support it.”