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

black-and-white-car-engine-chrome-190574.jpg

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.

Tenants' rights, dignity for the disabled and landlord profits

The attorneys at Santoni, Vocci & Ortega have been testifying in Annapolis during the 2018 Maryland legislative session regarding bills that will help tenants, consumers, those experiencing poverty, disabled individuals and the elderly.  We do not get paid as lobbyists and we do not represent entrenched corporate interests.  We advocate on behalf of everyday Marylanders who need protection from those who would seek to take advantage and injure them financially.  

A bill that we testified in favor of in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Environment and Transportation Committee, SB250 - HB580, would have allowed tenants who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), unemployment benefits, Social Security, temporary cash assistance, food stamps and other benefits that allow Marylanders to receive a short reprieve before a 5% late penalty on rent is imposed.  As we wrote to the House Environment and Transportation Committee,

This is a common-sense bill that will positively impact the lives of Maryland tenants, including seniors, disabled individuals and those experiencing poverty, by delaying the imposition of late penalties by a few weeks.  Tenants who receive their government benefits after the fifth day of the month will avoid a cycle in which penalties and fees added to their monthly rent make it difficult, if not impossible, to ever get back to even with their landlord.  

The Maryland Multi-Housing Association, which is self-described as "a group of rental housing providers, suppliers, and professionals dedicated to promoting and advancing the needs of the rental housing industry"  and the Maryland Building Industry Association testified against the bill, which was voted down by the House Committee.  The Maryland Building Industry Association testified that the bill (which would simply push back late fees for a few weeks for seniors, disabled individuals and those who are in need of federal assistance) was "totally unfair to landlords."   Tenants who want to avoid automatically imposed late fees because their disability payment arrives in the middle of the month are disregarded by an industry concerned about the imposition of penalties (i.e., profits) over people.  The video of the House Committee hearing is below.      

 

  

Maryland consumer files lawsuit against MLK-quoting judgment buying company

Renee Spencer, a Baltimore City resident, has filed suit against The Asset Recovery Group, LLC doing business as The Judgment Group ("The Judgment Group"), one of its employees, and her former landlord, for debt collection violations alleging that The Judgment Group garnished her wages on an alleged debt that had been paid 10 years earlier. The Judgment Group continued to garnish her wages even after Ms. Spencer provided proof from her employer that the alleged debt had been satisfied.

“I had just gone back to work after completing treatment for cancer for the second time,” says plaintiff Renee Spencer. “I felt like I was just getting back on my feet, and then my wages were garnished.  The full amount of the same debt had been paid over ten years ago, but over $6,000 was taken from my paychecks.”

“We have alleged that The Judgment Group, a company that quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in its mission statement, unlawfully garnished Ms. Spencer’s wages, said Chelsea Ortega of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC, Ms. Spencer’s attorney. “This case illustrates the dangers of zombie debt, which is a debt that is very old or no longer owed but comes back to life years and years later to haunt consumers.  Often the companies collecting these judgments purchase the debt for pennies on the dollar, but can collect up to three times the original judgment amount because they seek post-judgment interest over a lengthy period of time.”

The case is Renee Spencer v. The Asset Recovery Group, LLC, et al., case number 24C17005402, pending in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

A copy of the Complaint is available here.

Victory for SVO's clients - Jury finds Contractor Liable for Fraud, Consumer Protection and Debt Collection Violations

On August 10, 2017, at the end of trial prosecuted by Jane Santoni on behalf of homeowners against a landscape/hardscape contractor, a Baltimore County jury found that Defendant Peter Ireland, Jr. of "PieScape" committed fraud, violated Maryland's Consumer Protection Act and Maryland's Consumer Debt Collection Act, and breached his contract. The jury awarded economic and non-economic damages along with punitive damages against Ireland.  The jury awarded almost $36,000 in damages to the couple who were victims of Defendant's actions.

Details from Maryland's Casesearch can be found here.