Public Justice

Amazing night with Public Justice warriors

Brad accepts appointment as President of Public Justice, country's largest public interest firm.

Brad accepts appointment as President of Public Justice, country’s largest public interest firm.

What a night at this evening’s 2015 Public Justice Gala in Montreal, Canada. More to come in future posts. However, I wanted to share with you the amazing moments between the new President of Public Justice, Brad J. Moore, and SKW partner Keith L. Kessler. The room was filled with dedicated advocates, who have fought tirelessly for consumer rights.  I could go on and on right now, but it’s late. So, I will just put up a couple of wonderful photos.

The first photo (see top of this post) is of Brad Moore and Esther Berezhovsky (outgoing PJ president) on stage.

The next one is of Brad and Keith. Can you see the joy and pride in Keith’s eyes? What a proud father and tremendous mentor…

Brad w Keith

 

Brad’s mother, former State Senate House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, did me the honor of sitting next to me and sharing a little about Brad before he started practicing law. I am truly proud to be a part of such a remarkable firm. We will continue to champion the rights of consumers everywhere.

 

Public Justice recognizes injured worker who lost both hands

Rosa Moreno hasn’t been able to afford prosthetic hands

Rosa Moreno hasn’t been able to afford prosthetic hands

In today’s The Guardian, injured worker Rosa Moreno shared how she lost both of her hands as an LG television machine worker.

Her evoked such strong reactions–outraging and saddening readers who had no idea of the wrongs inflicted on underpaid workers. The entire firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan is proud of Public Justice’s work effort to help Rosa’s story get the attention that it deserves. Public Justice is the country’s largest public interest law firm with the mission of protecting consumers. Rosa Moreno was just selected the recipient for Public Justice’s “2015 Illuminating Injustices” award of $25,000. The award helps shine a light on an injury victim who has suffered significant injury but suffered additional injustice with only obtaining partial recovery.

Below is an excerpt of Rosa’s story:

On February 11, 2011, I lost both my hands.

I was working an overnight shift at my job in Reynosa, Mexico, where I was cutting metal for parts used in assembling flatscreen televisions. I was working in my usual area, and the boss was pressuring us.

“I want you to work faster, because we need the material urgently,” he said.

I was moved to Machine 19, which can rip and cut metal and takes two hands to operate. It is heavy, weighing at least one ton, maybe two, and no one liked to work on it because it was too difficult. They always seemed to assign it to me.

I started work at 11pm. Around 2 or 2:30am, I was positioning metal inside Machine 19. My hands were actually inside the machine, because I had to push the metal in until it clicked into place.

That’s when the machine fell on top of them.

I screamed. Everyone around me was crying and yelling. They stopped the assembly line on the female side of the room, but the men were told to keep working.

Meanwhile, I was stuck. No one could lift the machine off my hands. They remained trapped for 10 minutes, crushed under the machine.

Finally, a few fellow employees created a makeshift jack to lift the machine up just enough for me to pull my hands out. I wasn’t bleeding very much, because the machine actually sealed the ends of my arms and forged them to the piece of metal. They took me to the hospital with the piece attached to my hands. The doctors were surprised when I showed up like that. I remember saying, ‘Take the piece off. Take it off.’ But they didn’t want to.”

My hands were flattened like tortillas, mangled, and they both had to be amputated. I lost my right hand up to my wrist and my left a little higher. I didn’t know how I’d ever work again.

Immediately, I started to worry about my children. I have six children at home, who were between the ages of 9 and 17 during the accident, and I am both mother and father to them. How would I take care of them now?

Working six days a week, I made 5,200 pesos a month ($400). Without my hands, I knew I wouldn’t even be able to make that much.

After five days in the hospital, I checked myself out. But I didn’t go home first. I went directly to the factory where I worked for HD Electronics. I asked to see the manager. He offered me 50,000 pesos ($3,800).

“I’ve lost both my hands,” I said. “How will my family survive on 50,000 pesos?”

“That’s our offer,” he said. “Stop making such a big scandal about it and take it.” I eventually got about $14,400 in settlement money under Mexican labor law, an amount equal to 75% of two years’ wages for each hand. But I knew I had to do better for my family. So I looked across the border, to Texas, where my former employer is based.

I found a lawyer with a nice office in a good part of town. I was sure he would help me. Instead, he said, “Go up to the international bridge and put a cup out and people will help you.”

I was devastated.

rosa signing
Moreno uses her forearms to sign her lawyer’s contract. Photograph: Alan Pogue/Texas Centre for Documentary Photography

That’s when I decided to tell my story on television. That led me to Ed Krueger, a retired minister who vowed to find me the right lawyer. That lawyer was Scott Hendler at the law firm Hendler Lyons Flores, in Austin, Texas. Even though I could not pay, he helped me file a lawsuit against LG Electronics, which contracted with the factory where I worked. Finally, about 18 months after the accident, I had hope.

Then the judge in my case threw out the lawsuit on a technicality, saying LG had not been properly notified. I wasn’t even given a chance to respond.

It’s been four years since I lost my hands. I have trouble paying my mortgage, and I wonder: Was that first lawyer right? Will I end up on a bridge, holding a cup out in front of me?

If you are so moved, please consider donating to Ms. Moreno via www.documentaryphotographs.com/rosamoreno1.html

This is photographer Alan Pogue’s explanation of his beautiful portraits of Rosa: I have worked with Ed Krueger for more than 20 years. He is the founder of the Comite de Apoyo, for Mexican women workers who teach other workers their rights under Mexican labor law and how to organize to obtain those rights. He is on Facebook, only because someone helped him since he is clueless about the internet. Ed and the Comite are also a worthy cause and without him I would not have met Rosa. I accept money for Rosa and the Comite because Ed has no website or PayPal. He does what he does, driving up and down the Rio Grade teaching workers, mostly women, their rights. He is a saint who knows nothing about PR or the web. I charge nothing or helping Ed, the Comite and Rosa. No administrative cost, no gas money for driving back and forth to the Valley. I stay with Ed when I drive down so there are no hotel costs. Simple and direct. This is what I expect form others.

Note: SKW partner Brad J. Moore Seattle, Public Justice President Elect/Consumer Protection Attorney is incoming president of the Public Justice Foundation, who is instrumental as a leader in this organization devoted to protecting individuals, consumer rights, the environment. Like SKW, Public Justice wants to challenge the most powerful organizations to do the right thing and to hold them accountable when they make choices in favor of profit over the consumer’s/worker’s well being.

Groundbreaking Decision for Safer Drinking Water

Judge rules that Cow Palace polluted groundwater from its application, storage & management of manure, posing possible “imminent and substantial endangerment” to the public

Judge rules that Cow Palace polluted groundwater from its application, storage & management of manure, posing possible “imminent and substantial endangerment” to the public

Yesterday, The New York Times reported on the following: Earlier this week, we received a groundbreaking decision in the first of the Yakima Valley, WA dairy cases led by Public Justice*, in which we just won on motion for summary judgment.  This is a case brought in the Eastern District of Washington on behalf of Center for Food Safety and a local community group under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), seeking to find that the dairies were operating as open dumps and endangering the public health by contaminating the local water supply with nitrates.  This case is the first of its kind to seek to establish that manure created at an industrial animal operation (in this case, a mega-dairy), when mishandled, is a solid waste under RCRA.  This legal approach is particularly meaningful because RCRA offers far-reaching remedies to force the industry to clean up their practices and the contamination they caused.

Building on inspiring work by Charlie Tebbutt to develop the facts of the case, Public Justice took the lead in the motion for summary judgment briefing.  In a 111-page precedent-setting opinion, the Court found that Plaintiffs had established their case on all five claims concerning the drinking water supply, and that the only critical issue left for trial on the groundwater contamination is the remedies.  The court reserved Plaintiffs’ RCRA claims on environmental contamination of surface waters and whether the cow pens were sources of contamination for trial because Plaintiffs did not move for summary judgment on those issues (they were extremely minor claims and were left out in an effort to pair down the motion).  To summarize Plaintiffs’ five claims, the Court ruled:

  1. Plaintiffs had standing.
  2. Defendants’ manure was a solid waste under RCRA because it had no beneficial use (they created far more than they could properly use).
  3. The manure was leaking into groundwater, which is the Valley’s drinking water supply, and endangering public health through nitrate contamination.
  4. The dairy is operating in violation of RCRA’s open dumping provisions, meaning they must conform to sanitary landfill or other waste treatment standards.
  5. The corporate entities backing Cow Palace were also liable.

This is an enormous victory for the Yakima Valley community, who have been fighting for clean water for more than two decades, as well as for advocates seeking to reform industrial animal agriculture to a more sustainable place.  The Food Project already has several cases either filed or being developed to build off of this groundbreaking precedent, and this will empower countless communities whose drinking water has been poisoned by factory farms. It is also simply an historical moment for environmental law to expand RCRA in this fashion, and will help pressure the industry to operate in a more sanitary fashion, protecting not only the environment and the local community, but the animals, the workers, and consumers.

For Public Justice, this is a model case because it was brought not only by Public Justice, but in partnership with Board members. Brad Moore with Stritmatter Kessler Whelan in Seattle acted as local counsel, attending the site inspection and performed key depositions that gave us the facts we needed to win at summary judgment, and Beth Terrell with Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie, also of Seattle also played a prominent role in the case, most recently in drafting ALL of the Daubert motions for Defendants’ numerous experts.  Both provided critical financing to make these cases possible.

Also significant: Judge Rice ruled on Plaintiffs motions to unseal the documents in the case.  The Plaintiffs have vigorously opposed Defendants’ prolific document sealing and it was rewarding to receive a strong opinion in favor of an open court, and against court secrecy. All of the documents supporting our case were unsealed.

On a more personal note, and something that brings home the import of this case, when Ms. Jessica Culpepper was at the hearing on this motion, an 83 year old woman approached her afterward.  The woman was an elder in the Yakama Tribe, and had traveled to Spokane to see the hearing and report back to the other elders.  The two spoke for some time about the case, her life, and Public Justice. She thanked the legal team for their tenacity to fight this important legal battle.  In the Yakama language, the elder spoke about how important the work was to protect their waters.  Ms. Culpepper asked her to write down how to say “thank you” in Yakama:

kw’aia-nuu-sha.

This is a major victory on the side of justice. We will continue to update you as the case progresses.

*Brad J. Moore serves as President Elect of Public Justice, the nation’s largest public interest law firm that advocates consumer rights.

Consumer protection agency sues Sprint for illegal charges

Sprint sued for "cramming" unwanted charges onto its consumers' bills.

Sprint sued for “cramming” unwanted charges onto its consumers’ bills. (Photo: Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Sprint may have been overcharging its consumers to the tune of millions of dollars by cramming unauthorized charges onto its consumers’ bills. Haven’t we heard this before? Yes, in fact earlier this year, SKW attorney Brad J. Moore, also the President Elect of Public Justice (the country’s largest public interest law firm focused on consumer protection) obtained a $20 million class action settlement against Sprint PCS for illegal taxes.

Most recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are targeting Sprint in an investigation for practices of illegally billing customers tens of millions of dollars for unauthorized charges related to premium text messages.

Just yesterday, the consumer bureau sued Sprint in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The lawsuit claims that Sprint has been operating a billing system that allows third parties to “cram” unauthorized charges onto consumers’ mobile phone bills.

On a parallel track, the F.C.C. is conducting a similar investigation. Sources reveal that a settlement where Sprint would pay $105 million in refunds/restitution is imminent.

“Consumers ended up paying tens of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges, even though many of them had no idea that third parties could even place charges on their bills,” said Richard Cordray, director of the consumer bureau. “As the use of mobile payments grows, we will continue to hold wireless carriers accountable for illegal third-party billing.”

In the past, the F.C.C., the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general have participated in lawsuits or settlements with AT&T and T-Mobile for similar alleged cramming charges. The practices under scrutiny typically focused on charges on customers’ bills for premium text messages, that came via horoscopes or other digital content.

The three major mobile companies have gotten hit with accusations of ignoring warning signs that many of the charges were unauthorized. Ignoring thousands of consumer complaints, these carriers blithely allowed third-party companies to assess the charges.

The action by the consumer bureau is a clear signal (again, no pun intended!) of its ongoing plans to police mobile payment systems (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and others). Thank goodness for consumer protection groups and watchful agencies who are not entirely in the pockets of these mobile companies.

Know this before skipping over the fine print

As consumers, we are constantly asked to sign agreements with our cell phone provider, a credit card company, a cable company, an ecommerce merchant, etc. Before signing these agreements, we are typically asked to agree to the terms and conditions of the agreement. These contracts of adhesion now have standard forced arbitration clauses. So what? Well, watch this brief documentary, which will open your eyes to how corporations are warping the justice system against consumers with forced arbitration.

As Paul Bland, Executive Director of Public Justice explains in the documentary’s companion article, forced arbitration has thwarted the justice system in our country. Replacing the public justice system that our founding fathers developed and envisioned, consumers are now thrust into a for-profit system rigged in favor of corporations. As I wrote in a previous blog post,  AMEX v. Italian Colors was a devastating decision, which now allows the Federal Arbitration Act to override virtually any other statute. Merchants like the small town restaurant owner of Italian Colors are bound to forced arbitration clauses:

Before this decision, SCOTUS said that courts should only enforce arbitration clauses where a party could “effectively vindicate its statutory rights.” However, with American Express v. Italian Colors, a majority (composed of the five conservative justices) held that the arbitration clauses are enforceable even if doing so makes it impossible for a plaintiff to actually vindicate its statutory rights.*

Lost in the Fine Print

 

*Excerpt from blog post July 2013 blog post.

Class actions empower consumers

A widespread fallacy is that class action lawsuits only help to line lawyers’  pockets.  This is what corporations want everyone to believe. That way, consumers who are hurt–either physically or financially– as the result of a corporation’s wrongdoing are less apt to seek  a class action against a behemoth.  But the results that Stritmatter Kessler Whelan has consistently obtained on behalf of class action plaintiffs have empowered many consumers. They have truly found justice and appropriate compensations for their injuries.

Public Justice, the nation’s largest public interest law firm pursues actions on behalf of consumers to keep large corporations in check. PJ attorney, Paul Bland, explains in the video below why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “analysis” of class actions is bunk.  We at SKW are proud of the many accomplishments of PJ. Our own Brad J. Moore is currently vice president (Public Justice’s president-elect by August 2014), involved in some PJ lawsuits that include the one against Yakima industrial dairies who are responsible for that region’s groundwater contamination.

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