In 2014 Marylanders elected by an overwhelming margin state Senator Brian Frosh to become our new attorney general. Now, closing in on some two years in office, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Attorney General Frosh and find out how he viewed his short time heading the attorney general office in Maryland.
The accomplishments of his office in such a short time are quite impressive and highlight his commitment to the well-being of the citizens of Maryland.
The achievement that may very well be the most indicative of this and that validates his campaign promise to be "the people's attorney" is the suit against Access Funding, LLC and other affiliated companies. The suit alleges that, in violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, these companies mislead victims of lead paint poisoning into converting their future structured settlement payments into a cash payment. These structured settlements were designed to safeguard the future of these Marylanders who suffered cognitive impairment as a result of exposure to lead paint as children.
The suit goes on to allege that the company, Access Funding, arranged for its "customers" to receive "independent professional advice". The problem with this was that the attorney who provided the "independent professional advice", according to the suit, was a member of the company's own team.
In one case a recipient of the structured settlement signed away her future funding stream amounting to some $408,000 for just $66,000 immediate cash. It doesn't take a lawyer to recognize that someone was taken advantage of and it wasn't the company.
Kudos to Attorney General Frosh for pursuing this injustice and I hope legal technicalities don't stand in the way of justice.
Other issues discussed during our interview included the work his office did to dissolve two sham cancer charities. Specifically, Cancer Fund of America, Inc. and Cancer Support Services, Inc. agreed to settle charges that the organizations claimed to help cancer patients, but, instead spent the overwhelming majority of donations on trips, gifts and salaries for operators, families and friends. The court ordered settlement imposes a judgment against these two organizations of $75.8 million, the amount consumers donated to the two organizations between 2008 and 2012.
Another achievement of the office mentioned by the Attorney General was the multi-state agreement with the for-profit education company Education Management Corporation (EDMC). This agreement resulted in EDMC "forgiving" more than $1.4 million in loans to nearly 1,000 former Maryland students who took courses online. The basis of the action was the misleading recruitment practices performed by EDMC. The agreement tightens up those practices and requires EDMC, among other things, to provide students with a single-page disclosure that includes the student's anticipated total cost, the median debt for those who complete the program, the default rate for those enrolled in the same program, warnings about the unlikelihood that credits from some EDMC schools will transfer to other institutions, and job placement rate.
Attorney General Frosh is also proud of supporting a bill that was passed by the general assembly and signed into law by the governor that ensures that proper and sufficient documentation is presented in court to prevent inappropriate debt collection actions. The new law bars collection actions after the statute of limitations has expired, and requires that third-party debt buyers must present certain documents to obtain a court-ordered collection action, including evidence of the agreement between the original creditor and debtor and documents establishing the debt buyer's ownership of the accounts. "Third-party debt buyers file about 30,000 cases in Maryland court each year," Attorney General Frosh said. "Most of the time the consumers don't appear, or don't have lawyers, and these new rules will help make sure the process is fair and proper." If you don't realize the magnitude of this issue, imagine yourself being taken to court without your knowledge simply because you are the "wrong" individual with the "right" name.
Regarding transparency in government, I asked the Attorney General about the role of the new Ombudsman, Lisa Kirschner. He considers this position to be a valued asset as she serves as a sort of third party middleman to help mediate requests for information between the government offices and the public, including the press. Often, any friction created by the requests made and the reaction to the requests can be mitigated with a better understanding of what is needed as compared to what is requested. Her position serves to do just that and is a welcome addition to the information gathering process.
When it came to challenges ahead the issue of gun safety was discussed. Even with Maryland having one of the strongest gun safety laws in the entire country, coordination and cooperation with other states is critical to effective gun safety measures. The attorney general pointed to efforts among several states to do a better job of sharing information. That, of course, is crucial to effective enforcement of existing gun laws. He also indicated that law enforcement in Maryland has been proactive in supplementing the ATF regarding gun shows and the often mentioned gun show loop hole. In Maryland, as a result of the Firearms Safety Act of 2013, there is no gun show loop hole. All gun sales require a background check.
As for challenges ahead, maybe the most significant is the need for resources to continue to do the job that the people of Maryland deserve and expect. As the attorney general pointed out, the old adage "do more with less" does not apply. "When you have less, you are forced to do less."
Regarding what he may not have fully anticipated prior to filling the role of attorney general, the issue of limited resources with which to work is probably the number one answer to that question, as well.
With a budget cut of some seven percent and with rent costs locked in, the only place to take the budget hit is by not filling vacancies. This significantly impacts the ability to effectively handle criminal appeals where the public defender's office can outnumber the attorney general's office staff by some two to one.
With that said Frosh’s accomplishments as attorney general in a period of less than two years are even more impressive.