Consumer Attorney Fined $85K For Not Communicating Settlement Offer

A lawyer who has represented consumers in 64 lawsuits alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has been forced to pay nearly $85,000 to the defendants in a case after he failed to communicate settlement offers to his client, according to a published report.

Ernest P. Francis of Alexandria, Va., was also fired by his client, while the client was giving a deposition after a number of facts, including the failure to convey the the settlement offer came to light. Francis said he did not communicate the offer because it did not contain “adequate attorney’s fees.”

The plaintiff was suing collection attorneys after the bank they represented had sued the plaintiff to recover $40,000 in unpaid credit card debt. The plaintiff alleged that the collection attorneys had violated the FDCPA and caused $50,000 in damages.

The defendants made an offer to settle the case, but Francis rejected it without sharing the details with his client. A few months later, during a deposition of the client, the original offer was brought up. The client indicated he did not suffer harm, was not interested in pursuing the lawsuit, and was not seeking any damages. At that point, the defendants’ attorney, Manuel Newburger, of the law firm Barron & Newburger, made a new offer – dismiss the case and the defendants would waive any claim against the plaintiff for fees. The offer was accepted by the client, who immediately fired Francis.

The defendants then moved to have Francis sanctioned for unreasonably multiplying the litigation. Francis explained his decision by saying he considered the offer a preliminary negotiation and had an agreement with his client that no offer would be accepted unless it included full attorney’s fees for defending the original collection lawsuit.

Francis has previously been involved in 64 lawsuits representing consumers alleging violations of collection-related statutes, according to data supplied by WebRecon.

Francis did not return a request for comment in the published report.

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