N.Y. Orgs Line Up Against Suit Seeking to Allow Non-Lawyers to Represent Consumers in Collection Cases

In one of those rare times when consumer advocates and the accounts receivable management find themselves on the same side, a group of legal services and civil rights organizations have filed an amicus brief in opposition to a request for a preliminary injunction that would allow a non-profit organization to train non-lawyers to help consumers being sued for unpaid debts.

A copy of the amicus brief in the case of Upsolve and Rev. John Udo-Okon v. Letitia James can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiffs filed their complaint back in January, accusing the state of New York of violating the First Amendment of the Constitution by requiring consumers to have a licensed lawyer represent them when defending themselves against debt collection lawsuits.

While admitting that there probably aren’t enough resources for consumers who have been sued for unpaid debts, those filing the amicus brief argued that “there are many more legal services attorneys in New York City, and a much wider range of free legal services” than the plaintiffs suggest. Most importantly, those organizations “rarely, if ever turn away low-income New Yorkers who need help responding to debt collection lawsuits.”

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit also does not address the biggest problem with respect to default judgments being issued against consumers, the organizations alleged in their brief. The issue is not representation, it’s sewer service.

Organizations that have decades of experience representing consumers in debt collection cases know the intricacies and complexities of defending those cases that an untrained volunteer might not know, the amici said in their brief. Ultimately, the plaintiffs’ “proposal, however well-meaning, does not address a pressing need” and denying the motion for an injunction would not cause irreparable harm.

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