Clinical Law Program Investigation Leads to Multi-State Fraud Lawsuit

Willamette University College of Law students spent more than a year investigating four California corporations and an individual that allegedly engaged in unlawful trade practices, including misleading marketing of an English language instruction course and unconscionable collection tactics. The investigation culminated in early August when Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers announced the filing of a $1.2 million lawsuit spanning 12 states.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants advertised "free" English language instruction course materials and later charged the consumers exorbitant shipping and handling fees. The defendants also repeatedly demanded payment for products that some consumers never ordered or received. Thereafter, the defendants falsely represented themselves as third-party debt collectors and lawyers and threatened legal action in an effort to extract more money from the victims. In all cases, the victims owed the defendants nothing.

Willamette Clinical Law Program students began work on the case in fall 2006. Third-year student Elan Martinez was involved in the initial investigation and coordinated efforts with local police. Jared D. Boyd, also a 3L, conducted legal research on the admissibility of certain evidence. Laurie Nelson, who is fluent in Spanish and a May 2007 Willamette law graduate, translated affidavits and served as a liaison to consumers involved in the case. In addition, third-year student Lonn Johnston drafted the complaint.

David A. Friedman, visiting assistant professor of clinical legal studies, supervised the students’ work and filed the case in Marion County Circuit Court in conjunction with Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) financial fraud and consumer protection attorneys.

In 2006, Professor W. Warren H. Binford, director of the Clinical Law Program, and Friedman were deputized special assistant attorneys general by the Oregon DOJ. Under their supervision, students enrolled in Willamette’s Clinical Law Program have helped the DOJ investigate and prosecute numerous civil cases involving financial fraud and consumer protection issues. A number of the cases have involved misconduct targeting the Hispanic community.

“Willamette’s partnership with the Oregon DOJ provides a unique opportunity for our Clinical Law Program students,” Binford said. “Many of our law students are committed to public service and using their legal training to protect vulnerable members of our society. Our partnership with the DOJ allows them to act on their commitment in a meaningful way.”