Award to Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service

Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC is proud to have represented a class of tenants in a case against a residential property management company relating to late fees and court costs. As part of the settlement of the case, unclaimed amounts from the settlement fund were given to Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. Better known as MVLS, the non-profit's mission is to provide quality civil legal assistance to Marylanders with limited income at no cost. MVLS will receive $72,019.80 in funds from the class action settlement, which will help it meet the tremendous need for civil legal representation for poor and working-class residents.  

Debt Collection Class Action Settlement Receives Final Approval from Court

The Baltimore City Circuit Court has approved the settlement of a class action case filed by Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC against a law firm representing a Baltimore-based bail bond company, obtaining relief for over 100 Marylanders. The lawsuit alleged that the law firm violated federal debt collection and state debt collection laws by filing lawsuits against class members in the wrong venue – namely Baltimore City – when the class members lived and signed the contract in a different county. The class members will receive monetary compensation and the law firm has since stopped the practice of filing in the wrong venue. The case is Renee Day v. The Law Office of Ralph L. Sapia, P.A., Case No.: 24C17003361.

$96,000 JUDGMENT AGAINST LARGE BALTIMORE LANDLORD FOR ILLEGAL EVICTION & CIVIL THEFT

On March 5, 2019, the Honorable Shannon E. Avery of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a ruling finalizing a $96,593.39 award against Ted Thornton, Maryland Property Management, LLC, and ANT Properties, LLC (“Defendants”). Late last year, a jury had found the Defendants liable for illegally locking Helena Peters-Hawkins and Charles Hawkins (“Plaintiffs”) out of their home and taking or destroying property, including bunk beds, toddler beds, dishes, clothes, sheets and blankets, and a television. Plaintiffs and their children ended up sleeping on bare wooden floors and sharing a few blankets. The jury awarded Plaintiffs damages against Defendants, including an award for the emotional distress inflicted by the landlord during a several weeks’ long campaign of threats ending with an illegal eviction.

 In 2013, the Maryland legislature provided a remedy for tenants, like Ms. Peters-Hawkins and Mr. Hawkins, whose landlords threaten eviction and take self-help measures to lock out tenants from their homes. Using the relatively new law, tenants may recover their damages and petition the court for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs to be paid by the offending landlord. In the instant case, the Court granted Plaintiffs the full amount of attorneys’ fees and costs requested.

 One of the express purposes of the “illegal lockout” law in Maryland is to preserve human dignity and human rights. “This case is a win for our clients, who were repeatedly threatened by Defendants, and for tenants in Baltimore whose landlords may now think twice before violating their tenants’ rights,” said Chelsea Ortega of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC, Plaintiffs’ attorney. Ms. Peters-Hawkins stated, “we went through so much with this landlord, but we stood up against him and his companies. You cannot treat people the way we were treated.” No offer was made to settle the case prior to trial.

 The case is Helena Peters-Hawkins, et al. v. Maryland Property Management, LLC, et al., case number 24-C-18-001445 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Ms. Peters-Hawkins and Mr. Hawkins were represented by Chelsea Ortega and Matthew Thomas Vocci of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC.

Maryland Consumers File Class Action Against Major Unlicensed Bail Bonds Company in Baltimore to Stop Collection of Judgments

Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two Maryland residents challenging 4 Aces Bail Bonds Incorporated’s (trading as Baltimore’s Discount Bail Bonds’ (“BDBB”)) alleged use of Maryland state courts while operating as an unlicensed bail bonds company profiting off money bail. The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, also names as defendants the surety insurance companies that underwrite its bail bonds, the law firm that files debt collections suits on its behalf, and the collections agency that collects its debt.

“Money bail is an unfair system that disproportionately harms low-income communities of color and the plaintiffs in this case epitomize the harm and suffering that result from this unfair scheme,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “BDBB’s efforts to collect premiums, which as an unlicensed bail bond company they were not legally entitled collect, is the height of exploitation of the criminal justice system and causes people who are already struggling to fall even further below the poverty line. While bail reform must occur systematically, unlicensed bail bond companies should not be able to evade regulation and profit off low-income communities of color who routinely fall victim to high money bail.” 

Prior to July 2017, when the new Maryland Rule 4-216.1 was in effect, judges routinely issued high money bail amounts without consideration of a criminal defendant’s financial means, creating a two-tier system of justice where pretrial access to liberty was made dependent on one’s financial ability.  As a result, indigent families of color regularly contracted with bail bond companies to bail out their loved ones in exchange for a premium – a fee charged by the bail bond company amounting to 10 percent of total bail.  Because the premiums are non-refundable, even if a criminal defendant appears in court or is not found to be guilty, family members who sign bail contracts are often trapped in cycles of harassment, debt, and incarceration. To collect the premiums, bail bond companies will harass and file debt collection lawsuits against each co-signer. Because the vast majority of co-signers are unrepresented in collections suits, judgments are often entered against them, allowing the bail bond companies to garnish their income, seize their assets, or even request arrest warrants.

“Not only was I sued, but my wages were garnished by BDBB,” said plaintiff Rebekah Shirbach.

The complaint seeks compensatory damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, on behalf of individuals who have had judgments entered against them by BDBB.  According to Jane Santoni of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC, “People deserve to be treated fairly. This case illustrates the unfair treatment of people in desperate situations.”  The complaint additionally raises violations of the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, as well as alleges conspiracy to collect payments by unlawful means and unjust enrichment.

The lawsuit is part of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s ongoing efforts to challenge the debt collection suits filed by BDBB.  In February 2018, the Lawyers' Committee sent a letter to the Maryland Judiciary requesting that the District Court dismiss, sua sponte, all 149 pending cases filed by the company for the tune of $862,111.81 on the grounds of being unlicensed.

To read the full complaint, click here.

 

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.  Now in its 55th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

 

About Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC

Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC is a private law firm dedicated to the protection of vulnerable people who are injured physically or economically by the illegal acts of others.  Its work includes protection of tenants, debtors, and other borrowers, and it seeks redress through individual and class claims.

 

Contact

Derrick Robinson, Lawyers’ Committee, DRobinson@LawyersCommittee.org, 202-662-831

Jane Santoni, Chelsea Ortega | Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC | 410-842-0553 |jsantoni@svolaw.com

Consumer Warranties - Protections for Consumers

Buyers of consumer products are often offered or sold warranties with the products they are purchasing, especially in the case of big purchases, like a car. What many consumers probably don’t know is that a federal law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, applies to many of these warranties and provides special protections for consumers. The purpose of the Act is to assist consumers in making informed decisions, and also to offer remedies to consumers.

 One of the requirements under the Act is that the seller of the warranty must make a copy of the warranty readily available for examination by the prospective buyer. The seller of the warranty also cannot require the purchaser of the warranty to have repairs requested under the warranty performed by the seller, unless the service is provided for free.

 If you were sold a warranty and have questions about it, contact the attorneys at Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC for a consultation.

After the Accident – Obtaining Compensation for Your Car’s Diminished Value

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Once our clients have had a chance to come to grips with the fact that they’ve just been in a car accident and have seen to their medical treatment, the next question they usually have if their vehicle can be repaired is whether they can get compensation for their car’s decrease in value now that it has been in an accident.  This is called a “diminution of value” claim, and is certainly worth pursuing if there has been a substantial amount  of damage done to a new or relatively new vehicle.

How to Make a Diminution of Value Claim

You will need to have the car inspected after it is repaired by someone who has experience in making diminished value determinations.  Generally, the fee for this service is not very high and they should write a report for you. You can use this report when negotiating with the insurance company.

Our firm has been successful in obtaining thousands of dollars for our clients in their diminution of value claims.*

If you have been in a car accident and need help making a diminution of value claim, contact us at 443-921-8161.

*Results obtained in past cases do not guarantee or predict outcomes in future cases. Every case is different.