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In 1986 I had a client who borrowed money from a “fly-by-night” loan company to buy a new washer and dryer. She had lousy credit and a minimum wage job, so the only place she could get credit was from a fly-by-night outfit which charged her the maximum interest allowed by the State’s usury law. But before they loaned her the money they also required that she borrow the money to buy their disability insurance product – something she didn’t necessarily want. I was arguing that the money she borrowed to buy the insurance was an add-on to the interest part of the loan rather than the principal, and thus violated the usury law. Eventually I learned that the fly-by-night was a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company and my law suit became part of the largest attorney fees award in the history of the State up to that time for a consumer class-action law suit.
In 1987, a year later, I was running for the State Legislature and asked all my campaign volunteers to help me write a legislative agenda in case we won. One of the ideas my volunteers came up with was similar to Habitat for Humanity and would allow renters to buy an abandoned house and fix it up with the help of neighborhood volunteers. We won the election (despite my being the underdog) mostly because we had the most volunteers, worked the hardest, and had created a lot of excitement as to what the Andy Dawkins team would do to get things done to make the world a better place. After being sworn-in, I introduced the bill setting up the housing program. The idea caught on and near the end of the session I had a million dollars “buttoned-up” for the program.
Meanwhile, it had become clear that I couldn’t be both a litigating attorney and a state legislator at the same time, so I gave up my role in the class action law suit (unfortunately before I had any idea there would be such a large attorney fees award). Also meanwhile, the lobbyist for the loan industry had found a legislator to introduce a bill that, among other things, eliminated the usury ceiling for the first $1,000 of any loan (like the one my ex-client had entered into). Although I wasn’t on the Commerce Committee and couldn’t fight the bill in the committee process, I did go to the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives (a Democrat), and explained what a bad bill it was for the “little guys” of the world. She assured me she knew that and would never let the bill come up for a floor vote.
Tomorrow: Killer Amendments