The case of Hess Kennedy, repeatedly covered in this space, got attention in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month after “a Florida Circuit Court judge entered an order to wind down the firm and approved a process for consumers to apply to get their money back.” (Eleanor Laise, WSJ, Oct. 14). David Giacalone has a few links (Oct. 29, scroll), as well as a more extensive post.
State documents filed in Broward County Circuit Court claim that in 2006 and 2007 the law firm run by Laura Hess and an affiliated company managed by Edward Cherry paid $12 million to friends and relatives, and to businesses run by former employees or associates of Hess and Cherry.
In the meantime, the firm did not negotiate with clients’ creditors or review credit records as promised, resulting in some consumers being sued for their debts or having to file bankruptcy, records showed.
Hess Kennedy Chartered LLC and The Consumer Law Center collected “exorbitant” upfront fees, usually up to 15 percent of the client’s unsecured debt, according to the Florida Bar’s Tuesday filing with the Florida Supreme Court.
According to a lawsuit filed by Chase, two Coral Springs attorneys are scamming their clients by promising to eliminate their debts, and then diverting debt payments for legal fees to file meritless lawsuits challenging credit card debts. The attorneys general of Florida, North Carolina, and West Virginia are also involved, and the Florida bar has moved to suspend the license of Laura Hess. “Defendants’ ulterior goals are to extract fees from card members who should be paying the money to Chase to satisfy their debts and to maliciously harass Chase in an improper (albeit unsuccessful) attempt to coerce the elimination of their clients’ legitimate debts.” (Bud Newman, “Chase Bank Accuses Florida Law Firms of Running Debt-Relief Scam”, Daily Business Review, Mar. 6).
Update: See also Mar. 6 Business Week; on-line at the self-reported Rip-Off Report; and WATE (Tennessee), Apr. 2. “‘The programs typically require financially strapped consumers to pay fees up front, so they make money whether or not any useful services are performed,’ says Philip Lehman, an assistant attorney general in North Carolina.”