Jury sides with CFPB against Ohio law firm

The CFPB alleged that Weltman, Weinberg & Reis violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act in their correspondence with consumers.

A jury issued a verdict on Friday in the lawsuit filed against an Ohio debt collection firm by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a Cleveland publication.

The CFPB alleged that Weltman, Weinberg & Reis violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act in their correspondence with consumers.

The firm’s initial demand letters contained “false, deceptive or misleading representations or means,” the jury said. However, the CFPB had failed to prove Weltman’s lawyers weren’t meaningfully involved in the debt collection process, the jury said.

Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent said he would take the jury’s decision under advisement in crafting his final decision. He gave the CFPB until June 15 to argue its case, and Weltman until June 29 to argue their side.

Weltman allegedly sent out computer-generated letters to consumers that gave the appearance of having been prepared by attorneys. The letters were printed on letterhead with the phrase “attorneys at law” at the top, but the suit alleges that in most cases lawyers “were not meaningfully involved.”

The law firm’s collection agents also referred to Weltman as a law firm during collection calls, implying that lawyers had exercised independent professional judgment in determining that the call was warranted or that the consumer in fact owed the debt. Yet lawyers generally had not evaluated individual accounts at the time of the calls, according to the complaint.

“Debt collectors who misrepresent that a lawyer was involved in reviewing a consumer’s account are implying a level of authority and professional judgment that is just not true,” said former CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a statement at the time.

The firm is responsible, he said, for “millions of debt collection letters and phone calls” that were improperly associated “with the professional standards associated with attorneys when attorneys were, in fact, not involved. Such illegal behavior will not be allowed in the debt collection market.”

Weltman managing partner Scott Weltman issued a statement claiming that the law firm has taken “every reasonable step” to make sure its statements to consumers are in compliance with federal statutes and to ensure that every statement made to consumers is accurate and not misleading.