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Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Judges Matter: Sometimes the “court of last resort” is a court

Victimized by credit reporting agencies, a desperate consumer turns to federal court
Perhaps you saw the segment of 60 Minutes this week about the nightmare that can follow when credit reporting agencies make mistakes – something they do with alarming frequency.  (If you missed it, you can see it here):

The story made clear that the process for trying to get an error corrected doesn’t work.  Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine alleged that the companies routinely violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
But what struck us was how one victim finally got justice – the one and only step she could take.
Her name is Judy Thomas.  But the bad credit of one Judith Kendall somehow wound up on her report.  According to 60 Minutes:
 it became a six-year battle with credit agencies, requiring box loads of correspondence to try and prove that she was Judy Thomas, not Judith Kendall, all to no avail. …
There are logs of daily phone calls to dispute centers, hundreds of letters to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, even correspondence from Judith's Kendall's creditors in Utah, acknowledging that the debts on her credit report aren't hers. …
Thomas told 60 Minutes:
“I couldn't refinance. I couldn't take advantage of the interest rates. I couldn't get a new-- I couldn't get a car. I couldn't cosign for my children's student loans. And I'd worked hard for my credit. I was-- and these people were taking it away from me.”
Then comes what is, in many ways the most important part of the story:
Finally Judy Thomas took the only recourse available to her. She sued Equifax and TransUnion in federal court. And after a year-long battle, the credit reporting agencies settled for an undisclosed sum and promised to clean up her file.
Federal courts don’t just deal with abstract concepts, or with terror suspects or alleged crime bosses.  Sometimes federal courts are the only recourse for everyday Americans like Judy Thomas.  That, of course, is one reason why it’s so important that there is a judge for every vacancy on our federal courts.  When there are too few judges, cases like this drag on for years – something that the Judy Thomas’ of the word cannot afford.  Or they may never be brought at all.

Of course there are other solutions – like enforcing the Fair Credit Reporting Act and beefing up penalties for credit reporting agencies that fail to correct their mistakes.  But when all else fails, we need federal courts – fully staffed with federal judges.

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