The 90-Day Report
The Center for Consumer Law & Economic Justice opened its doors 90 days ago. And as with any three-month-old: new things are learned each day, some systems are still a little messy, and the world is full of promise.
The Center's LAUNCH PARTY will take place the evening of
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2018 at the law school.
A snapshot of some of what the Center has been up to so far:
Fighting for the Rights of Defrauded Students
On April 16, the first day of the Center’s official existence, we filed an amicus brief in Manriquez v. DeVos , a case seeking to compel the U.S. Department of Education to honor its promise to forgive the debt of tens of thousands of students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. Our brief includes the compelling stories of several former students who are members of our client The Debt Collective, a remarkable organization of student loan borrowers who have come together for mutual support, collective action, and to remind each other that they are not “a loan.” Last month, the district court issued a ruling granting in relevant part the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Department’s use of its new (and fatally flawed) “Average Earnings Rule” and stopping the Department’s collection of covered Corinthian loans.
Bringing Together Consumer Protection Practitioners
In late June, the Center convened two new groups dedicated to protecting the rights of low-income consumers. Each of the partnershipsone in San Diego, the other in Los Angelescomprises dozens of government enforcement attorneys, consumer advocates, and direct legal service providers. The partnerships will help to ensure that enforcement agencies stay informed about the most pressing forms of fraud and abuse facing local consumers and will provide a forum to share ideas and materials. Both initial meetings were very well attended and participants enthusiastically endorsed the partnerships; the Center will continue to serve as convenor for a startup period, and will use these partnerships as models to be replicated in other cities and states.
Building the Curriculum
Dean Chemerinsky gave the Center a specific charge for its inaugural year: Increase the number and scope of consumer law courses offered at Berkeley Law. With the invaluable help of the law school administration, the dedication and expertise of instructors who have stepped forward to create new classes, and the irrepressible energy of enthusiastic and creative students who lobbied for and helped design the courses, the Center is on track to offer four new courses for the coming year:

  • Consumer Litigation: The Course of a Case (Fall 2018) will track the different stages of two previously litigated consumer cases, one private class action and one public enforcement action. The class will be taught by prominent consumer lawyer and longtime student mentor Kristen Law Sagafi (‘02) (Tycko & Zavareei) and Lisa Rosenthal (CFPB). It already has a waitlist.

  • The Law of Student Loans (Spring 2019) will be taught by Suzanne Martindale (‘10) of Consumers Union, one of the leading consumer advocates in California (and indeed the nation) as well as Chair of the Center’s Advisory Board. The course will fill a demand that has for years topped the list of students’ requested courses.

  • “Carsumer” Protection Law (Spring 2019) with beloved clinical instructor Sharon Djemal of EBCLC’s Consumer Justice Clinic at the helm, will take on one of the most timely and universal issues in consumer law—protecting consumers from unscrupulous automobile sales, repair, and lending outfits—and will feature a number of longtime supporters of the consumer law program at Berkeley Law in guest-starring roles.

  • Consumer Bankruptcy Law (Spring 2019) will be taught by Claire Johnson Raba, director of the Consumer Protection Practice at Bay Area Legal Aid. Claire has built BayLegal’s innovative consumer practice to extend across the spectrum of clients’ financial protection needs and throughout the Bay Area. We are excited to have her teach this essential course for what we believe will be the first time ever at Berkeley Law.

These courses will enhance the existing consumer law curriculum, which includes the longstanding introductory Consumer Protection Law class in the fall and the Comparative Consumer Law Colloquium developed and run by LL.M. students in the spring. The past academic year also included a class on Rulemaking in the Student Loan Industry led by ace former CFPB-er Jolina Cuaresma (‘03); Professor Abbye Atkinson’s riveting seminar on Debt, Discrimination, and Inequality; and the always immensely popular Complex Consumer Litigation course taught by our own Elizabeth Cabraser (‘78).

As one alum put it recently: “I wish they’d had these courses when I was in law school!”
Staffing Up, and Bringing Home the Cup
Finally, continuing the good news, the Center is delighted to welcome Ben Hiebert as its inaugural Administrator. Ben joins the Center with degrees from UC Davis and Columbia and—most crucially—a startling knack for trivia. Indeed, led by Ben’s remarkable knowledge of songs, plays, movies, and more, the Center’s team (“Consumed”) took home La Copa Trivial at the law school’s Trivia Night last month.

All in all, a most auspicious beginning!
Ted Mermin, Interim Executive Director
Center for Consumer Law & Economic Justice