I read with interest Editor Charles Crumpley’s Comment column in the last issue (“City Attorney Has Better Case to Make”) in which he contends that standing up for consumers is beyond the scope of my job as city attorney.
I couldn’t disagree more.
My office’s recent suit against Wells Fargo & Co. is a case in point. Our complaint alleges not only that Wells Fargo unlawfully opened customer accounts without authorization, but “further victimized its customers by failing to inform them of (misuse of their personal information), (or) refund fees they were owed.”
For alleged victims – who may have incurred unauthorized charges, had their credit damaged, and more – these allegations are a big deal. In the week since we filed our lawsuit, hundreds of Wells Fargo customers have called my office, claiming to have been mistreated this way.
Beyond the allegations of our complaint, this case demonstrates the key role my office can play in fighting for important interests that otherwise might never be vindicated. Crumpley suggests that any victimized consumer take the bank to court, as if that would be practical for small-business owners, seniors, single moms and others without the resources to battle one of the world’s largest financial institutions.
Indeed, recognizing that would be unrealistic in this and similar instances, California law empowers my office and a handful of others to bring cases under unfair competition laws on behalf of the people of our state. These laws are powerful tools through which to champion the rights of consumers and others who need an advocate.
We use this power and other tools to fight for workers confronting the theft of their wages, patients who are dumped on Skid Row, residents enduring substandard housing, immigrants ripped off in scams, neighborhoods grappling with environmental hazards, and more. Enforcing these laws not only protects the rights of individuals, but benefits the vast majority of businesses, large and small, which provide quality goods and services while playing by the rules. They should not be forced to compete with businesses that don’t.
In addition, our mission includes working to create safe and vibrant neighborhoods in which families and businesses can thrive. When I ran to be city attorney I promised to double our Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, which embeds key attorneys from my office in communities throughout Los Angeles. This team works closely with business owners, educators, parents, neighborhood councils and others to tackle their top public safety and quality-of-life priorities. Less than two years into my term we have nearly tripled this valuable program. We’ve complemented it with initiatives that tackle safety around school campuses, address truancy, combat gun violence and aim to reduce recidivism.
Of course, our office has other core responsibilities – writing all municipal laws, advising the City Council, mayor and all city agencies on all legal issues, prosecuting tens of thousands of misdemeanors, defending the city when it is sued, and more.
To be sure, it’s an expansive job. Through it all, the people of Los Angeles deserve to have someone in their corner fighting for them.
Mike Feuer is Los Angeles city attorney.