The Minneapolis-based National Arbitration Forum (NAF), in an annoucement made yesterday, has reached a settlement where it will stop consumer-credit arbitrations by the end of this week.
This is a major national story, but you probably haven't read about it in your local newspaper. The NAF operates all over the country, and I've been targeted here in Alabama. You, or someone you know, probably has been targeted.
Reports the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal:
National Arbitration Forum had represented itself to consumers facing debt disputes with creditors as an independent body that operated like an impartial court system. In fact, Swanson alleged, the company worked alongside creditors and against the interests of consumers.
After having personal experience with the National Arbitration Forum, I took more than a little delight in seeing the outfit tuck tail and run when its corrupt practices were about to be exposed. Reports the Business Journal:
The settlement does not include an admission of guilt or responsibility by the company. National Arbitration Forum is exiting consumer arbitration because of legal costs, legislative uncertainty surrounding arbitration and the economic climate, according to a statement by the company’s CEO Mike Kelly.
Uh, right. It had nothing to do with the fact that Lori Swanson--who should become a candidate for national office, in my view--was about to unmask these scoundrels.
I'll help Ms. Swanson out because I know how the NAF works.
My wife and I have seen our financial picture become less stable than it used to be after having corrupt Alabama lawyers and judges essentially steal large chunks of our personal wealth. That caused us to hear from a California-based outfit called Portfolio Recovery Associates and a law firm called Eskanos & Adler. They told us that we would be forced into having the NAF "arbitrate" our dispute.
The arbitrator turned out to be William A. Ratliff, a lawyer with the Birmingham firm of Wallace Ratliff Jordan and Brandt. Could I count on Mr. Ratliff to be an impartial arbiter? Well, check out his bio and notice his areas of practice. Near the top is "creditors' rights." That would be folks like credit-card companies and debt collectors.
Do you see anything on Ratliff's bio that indicates he gives a whit about consumer rights? Neither do I.
In a letter dated September 10, 2008, NAF informed me that--surprise, surprise--Ratliff had ruled in favor of Portfolio Recovery Associates. You have to read the letter's fine print to understand the corrupt nature of the entire process. Consider these nuggets:
4. An arbitration hearing notice was duly delivered to the parties as required by the forum rules.
No hearing notice was delivered to me.
5. The arbitrator conducted a hearing in this case in accordance with the forum rules.
No hearing was conducted in my case. If it was, I wasn't there. Do forum rules allow the arbitrator to conduct a hearing when one of the parties hasn't been noticed and isn't there as a result?
What was the bottom line in my experience with the NAF? I had a finding against me, even though the arbitrator never notified me of a hearing and never conducted a hearing. He never heard any evidence from me, but ruled against me anyway.
Is it any wonder that the Minnesota attorney general felt compelled to act?
I am just one of hundreds of thousands of Americans--maybe millions--who have been subjected to the NAF scam. No one has made any effort to collect the award against me--and I guess they won't, now that the NAF has hightailed it out of the consumer business.
But this story should not end with the Minnesota settlement. Law firms all over the country have willingly and knowingly participated in this NAF scam. Wallace Jordan Ratliff & Brandt has a lot of company around the country.
Will other attorneys general hold these law firms accountable? Will someone at the national level take action?
The task of cleaning up sleaze from the National Arbitration Forum should not be ending. It should be just beginning.