Answer: An unethical debt collector's lawyer.
That probably was the main lesson gleaned from our depositions yesterday in a lawsuit my wife and I have brought against NCO Financial Services, a debt-collection company based in Horsham, Pennsylvania, and Ingram & Associates, a Birmingham law firm.
We have written several times about the seamy side of the debt-collection industry. You can check out posts here, here, and here. Yesterday's deposition, showed us in an up close and personal way, just how low these dirtbags will go.
The chief villain this time was a lawyer from the Metairie, Louisiana, office of Sessions Fishman Nathan & Israel, a firm representing NCO Financial Services. The guy's name is Bryan C. Shartle, and we will have more on him in a minute.
The deposition itself--which lasted about six hours, including breaks--was rather uneventful. I suspect that's because the facts, as we know them so far, clearly show violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) and one or more state-law torts. But the real fireworks came afterwards.
As I noted yesterday, I suspect the deposition was scheduled--and captured on videotape--mostly for intimidation purposes. Our complaint, and the audiotapes we captured of our conversations with debt collectors, pretty much tell the story. There wasn't a whole lot of relevant information to be added from depositions.
That was apparent from some of the questions that came from Wayne Morse, a lawyer with Waldrep Stewart & Kendrick of Birmingham, representing Ingram & Associates. The depositions were conducted at his office.
Morse went over the complaint with both of us, apparently searching for any inaccuracies--however slight. He asked me to read one line that said we live in Birmingham.
"Do you actually reside in Birmingham?" he said.
"Well, our house is located in unincorporated Shelby County," I said.
"So, that statement is not accurate, is it?"
"Uh, well, our mailing address is Birmingham, AL 35242."
I don't know Morse's hourly fee, but I'm guessing he was hauling in $300 to $400 an hour to come up with penetrating questions like that.
At another point, Morse handed me a copy of the bio from my blog and asked me to read it to see if there was anything inaccurate in it.
I wanted to say: "Well, I don't listen to Three Dog Night as much as I used to, but I still think they were one of the great bands of the late '60s and early '70s. Is there a problem with that?"
Then I thought: "Does he think there is something subversive about the fact I liked the movie Brokeback Mountain?"
Morse did try to raise one serious-sounding issue that, under the law, isn't serious at all.
We currently are represented by attorneys, but we filed the complaint ourselves, acting pro se. The front page of the complaint lists Mrs. Schnauzer and me as plaintiffs. But Morse, in his best "gotcha" voice, pointed out that my wife had not signed the complaint. Morse took that to mean that I had been trying to "represent" her, which I cannot do and I knew all along I could not do.
"Do you know what unauthorized practice of the law means?" Morse said, implying that I had committed what I believe is a crime.
"Yes, I do," I replied, "and I wasn't doing that. We worked together on the complaint, and my wife simply forgot to sign it. It was a clerical mistake."
My wife confirmed that I never had any intentions of representing her, that I did not "prepare the document for her," and that the lack of her signature was an oversight.
Morse implied that this could have dire consequences. But what does the law say about it? Rule 11(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that every pleading, motion, and other paper--and Rule 8(a) says an original claim is a pleading--shall be signed by at least one attorney, or if the party is not represented by an attorney, shall be signed by the party. The last sentence of Rule 11(a) states:
An unsigned paper shall be stricken unless omission of the signature is corrected promptly after being called to the attention of the attorney or party.
This was called to our attention yesterday, and I've already asked our attorneys to correct it--hopefully today. Doesn't sound like such a big deal, does it? But hey, Wayne Morse had to do something to earn big bucks.
Perhaps the most noteworthy item about the deposition involved who was not there. Five lawyers were in the room, but none of them represented NCO Financial Services. Hmmm.
Our guy, Bryan C. Shartle, and his associate, Dayle Van Hoose of Tampa, were on speaker phone. Laura Nettles, who represents NCO and is with the Birmingham firm Lloyd Gray & Whitehead, was in parts unknown. Nettles has written a motion for summary judgment on NCO's behalf in the case, and her office is only about three miles from the site of the deposition. You would think she might be interested in our testimony. But she was nowhere to be found. Strange.
Actually, my wife and I suspect there is a good reason why none of NCO's representatives wanted to be in the same room with us yesterday. Consider this paragraph from a recent post on debt collectors:
Here is what's really interesting: It appears that entities from outside the lawsuit have been enlisted to help apply pressure to us. We are talking specifically about Infinity Property & Casualty Corporation, a Birmingham-based insurance company that has taken some highly irregular and unethical steps in our direction.
What are these highly irregular and unethical steps regarding Infinity Property & Casualty? They were addressed in yesterday's depositions, and we will be reporting on them in detail soon.
It appears that NCO's crackerjack legal team knows we are on to their lowball tactics. And that's probably why they did not want to have to face us in the flesh--and look us in the eyes.
Instead, they decided to lob bombs from the safety of their speakerphones. Which brings us back to Bryan C. Shartle. When the depositions were over, Shartle asked to speak to one of our attorneys privately, via cell phone, and asked if the court reporter could keep her equipment in place for a few minutes.
Our attorney seemed surprised by the request, and Wayne Morse seemed none too happy about it at all. Apparently such things normally aren't done in the legal world. When a deposition is over, that's generally all she wrote for that day.
What did Shartle need to say in such an urgent manner? According to our attorney, Shartle said that our complaint was the weakest FDCPA case he had ever seen, he intended to seek costs against me under the fee-shifting provisions of the FDCPA, and if I was unable to pay the costs, I would be incarcerated under federal law.
You probably will not be surprised to learn that I did not react to Shartle's message in a kindly fashion. In fact, I instructed our attorney to tell Shartle--in so many words--he could take his bogus threats and jam them in a certain orifice.
We will be shining considerable light on the facts and law of the case--and on the underhanded tactics someone took regarding this lawsuit--and I think that will show why Bryan Shartle was in a desperate frame of mind yesterday.
We also will be examining the curious dance that appears to be taking place between NCO Financial Services and Ingram & Associates. The issue seems to be: Who's ultimately responsible in this case for violating federal and state law and trying to screw us over?
In other words, the two snakes appear to be coiled up and hissing at each other. Who is the meaner, nastier snake of the two, the one really responsible for unlawful activity against us--and perhaps many other consumers? I think I know the answer to that question after yesterday's proceedings.
In closing, we have a word of advice for Mr. Shartle. My research indicates you don't know the law as well as you think you do. You also don't seem to know schnauzers very well.
We are one of the most trustworthy, good-natured, dependable breeds around. We are not as big as pit bulls, but you cross us at your peril. When you mess with us, when you treat us with disrespect, we can become intelligent, fierce, and effective fighters.
Mr. Shartle, here is one thing you and your friends at NCO can take to the bank about a Legal Schnauzer: You screw with us, and we will bite back hard--and we will get you in a place where it hurts.