Debt collectors serve the useful role in society of forcing many debtors who otherwise wish to pay their debts into bankruptcy.  They also provide a source of additional income for bankruptcy attorneys when they violate the automatic stay of 11 U.S.C. § 362(a), the discharge injunction of 11 U.S.C. § 524(a), and the Fair Debt Collections Act of 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq..

In spite of these important roles, the California Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, has filed a lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase, based on the fact that JPMorgan Chase violated various collection laws.  As Andrew Tangel and Alejandro Lazo reported in the May 27, 2013 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

In a lawsuit that echoes the worst abuses of the foreclosure crisis, the state’s top law enforcement official is suing the nation’s largest bank, accusing it of using aggressive and illegal tactics to collect credit card debt from thousands of California consumers.  Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris on Thursday accused JPMorgan Chase & Co. of operating a “debt collection mill” that flooded courts with more than 100,000 lawsuits to obtain speedy judgments before consumers could fight back. Much as banks did during the housing crisis, JPMorgan used so-called robo-signing to churn out documents without reviewing them, Harris said.  The state alleges that JPMorgan relied on incomplete records and erroneous information to make its cases; in some instances, key documents allegedly were signed by low-level employees posing as assistant treasurers and bank officers.  Harris also alleges that the bank revealed customers’ credit card numbers, potentially exposing them to identity theft.  JPMorgan also failed to notify some customers that lawsuits had been filed against them, a practice known as “sewer service” litigation, according to Harris.  The bank ”abused the judicial process and engaged in serious misconduct against California credit card borrowers,” Harris said. “This enforcement action seeks to hold [JPMorgan] accountable for systematically using illegal tactics to flood California’s courts with specious lawsuits against consumers.”

Picky, picky, picky.

Let’s look at just one of the charges against JPMorgan Chase:  Failing to notify customers that a lawsuit had been filed against them.  What’s the big deal?  Does the bank have to tell you everything it does?  After all, the government doesn’t have to tell you everything.

For example, I knew a guy — let’s call him Joseph K — who faced criminal charges, and had a trial without ever finding out what the charges were.  He was eventually executed without ever learning what the charges were against him.  No problem, right?  Oops.  I just remembered:  I didn’t know Joseph K personally.  Joseph K’s story, called The Trial, was told by a writer named Franz Kafka.  It illustrated what could go wrong in a society without the rule of law.

Maybe JPMorgan Chase’s behavior wasn’t acceptable after all.

But surely the other debt collectors are all above board.  Not according to Mr. Tangel and Mr. Lazo — and stop calling me Shirley.  Later in the article they state:

[D]ebt buyers appear to have business models in which they are able to go into California superior courts and get default judgments against consumers.  A majority of these debt collection cases go to default judgments, indicating that many of these firms do not make adequate efforts to notify people that they are being sued . . .

In fact, I have seen remarkably illegal and wicked behavior by debt collectors, and have written about it in great detail.  I even discussed the way debt collection practices have corrupted Sheriff’s departments.  And still the problem persists.

If you’ve been troubled by debt collectors —especially those attempting to collect money while you’re in bankruptcy, or attempting to collect debts that were discharged in bankruptcy — the good news is you can get relief.  Call a high quality bankruptcy attorney to discuss your options.