Showing posts with label contempt of court. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contempt of court. Show all posts

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Leary v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Services: Bankruptcy judge slaps student-loan servicer with a $378,000 contempt sanction

 A few weeks ago, Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glen slapped a huge contempt penalty on Great Lakes Educational Loan Servicers--$378,629.62! Why? Because Great Lakes repeatedly refused to comply with Judge Glen's directives in a student-loan bankruptcy case.  

Leary v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Servicers: The facts

In 2015, Sheldon Leary filed an adversary action in a New York bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge over $350,000 in student-loan debt. He amassed this debt to pay for his three children's college education (p. 1). 

 Mr. Leary represented himself and properly served Great Lakes, his student-loan servicer. He didn't know, however, that he needed to sue the U.S. Department of Education as well. Great Lakes passed Mr. Leary's complaint on to DOE, but neither DOE nor Great Lakes answered Mr. Leary's lawsuit. In fact, Great Lakes forwarded fifteen pleadings to DOE, but neither DOE nor Great Lakes made an appearance in Judge Martin's court for quite some time (p. 3).

In 2016, Mr. Leary obtained a default judgment against Great Lakes for failing to respond to his lawsuit, and Judge Glen discharged Leary's student-loan debt.  DOE ignored this judgment and sent Mr. Leary two letters threatening to garnish his wages (p. 5).

More than four years after filing his lawsuit, Leary moved to reopen his adversary proceeding and asked Judge Glen to find Great Lakes in contempt. Great Lakes still did not respond, and on April 29, 2020, Judge Glen held the loan servicer in contempt and assessed sanctions against it for $123,000.

Great Lakes did not pay this assessment, and Judge Glen held a second contempt hearing last August. At this hearing, Great Lakes made several arguments to avoid sanctions. First, it argued that it could not be held in contempt because it had not acted in bad faith. Judge Glen rejected this defense. Whether or not Great Lakes had acted in bad faith, the judge reasoned, it had ignored "clear and unambiguous" court orders and had not diligently tried to comply with them (p. 9). 

Great Lakes also argued that it transferred its loan processing job to another collection agent after Mr. Leary's lawsuit was filed, thus relieving itself of the obligation to respond to court pleadings. But that fact, the judge ruled, did not relieve Great Lakes from its duty to comply with court orders in Mr. Leary's lawsuit (p. 5).

Finally, Great Lakes argued that sanctions were not warranted because Mr. Leary had not been hurt by its five years of noncompliance with court orders.

But Judge Glen didn't buy that argument either. In fact, he pointed out, Great Lakes' inaction had significantly injured Mr. Leary by causing him to suffer "aggravation, pain and suffering, negative credit ratings, loss of sleep, worry and marital strain" (footnote 11).

Judge Glen:  Great Lakes was "grossly negligent"

In short, Judge Glen ruled, Great Lakes' inaction had been "grossly negligent" and "really much worse" (p. 1). As for Great Lakes' claim that its legal department was unaware that it was a named party in Mr. Leary's lawsuit, the judge found this argument "unbelievable[e]" (p. 11).

The judge ordered Great Lakes to pay most of its sanction to DOE, in an amount sufficient to pay off Mr. Leary's student-loan obligations. Thus, in the end, Leary got the relief he sought in 2015.  

Judge Glen did not find it necessary to hold DOE in contempt, but he did not find the agency blameless. As he noted in a footnote:

It should not be lost on anyone . . . that DOE's inaction with respect to Mr. Leary--especially when DOE had knowledge at multiple steps along the way that Great Lakes was ignoring its obligations to Mr. Leary as a named defendant in the adversary proceeding--is disappointing to say the least.

Another example of DOE arrogance and heartlessness

Judge Glen's decision fingered Great Lakes as the bad guy in the Leary case, but he found DOE's conduct to be "highly questionable" (footnote 4). As the judge pointed out, Great Lakes "sat by, regularly monitoring Mr. Leary's bankruptcy docket until his case was closed and Great Lakes could return his student loans to normal servicing status" (p. 10).

Obviously, DOE's lawyers knew what Great Lakes was doing and made no objection. It is hard to escape the conclusion that DOE allowed Great Lakes to flout Judge Glen's orders and thereby circumvent Mr. Leary's bankruptcy action.

 Great Lakes' behavior and DOE's complicity are despicable. All this shameful conduct must have been approved at the top levels of Betsy DeVos's administration. I say again, Secretary DeVos should be impeached.


References

Leary v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Case No. 15-11583, Adv. Proc. No. 15-01295, 2020 WL 5357812 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2020).

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Playing For Time: Who Benefits When A University Keeps Its Executive Searches Secret?

As of today, Louisiana State University has been in contempt of a court order for 115 days, incurring a fine of $500 a day for each day it is in contempt.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, The (Baton Rouge)Advocate sued LSU, seeking to get the university to comply with the Louisiana open records law and turn over the names of people who applied for the LSU president's job. Judge Janice Clark directed LSU to turn over the records almost four months ago.  LSU refused and appealed Judge Clark's order to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  The state's highest court refused to review the order.

But the litigation is not yet over. Apparently, the university is going to pursue a lengthy appeal process, hoping that a Louisiana appellate court will eventually reverse Judge Clark's order. I think this is a forlorn hope.  Ultimately, LSU will have to turn over the records

Why does LSU insist on keeping its presidential search secret?  And more importantly, who benefits from this secrecy?

Executive search firms. First, executive search firms charge tens of thousands of dollars to administer university searches for executive leaders. These firms keep a stable of potential job applicants who are happy to throw their names in the hat for a university executive job so long as their current employers don't find out.  Keeping names secret helps the search firm keep a tidy pool of job candidates on hand for the many searches they coordinate.

University executives. Second, many university presidents and senior executives--provosts, deans, etc.---are constantly on the prowl for new jobs, and they don't want their current employers to know that they are ready to jump ship if a better opportunity appears.  Undoubtedly, some of the 35 semifinalists in the LSU presidential search will be embarrassed when their names are eventually released.

Lawyers. Finally, attorneys make their fees by helping universities skirt the letter of state open records laws.  In LSU's current dispute with The Advocate, the accumulated legal fees will certainly be much larger than the fine that LSU ultimately pays.

LSU plays musical chairs with its chancellors and provosts. LSU maintains that secret executive searches are essential in order to attract the best talent. But how has that worked out for it? LSU has been plagued by a constant turnover of top leadership for the last 15 years.  The university has changed chancellors and provosts so many times that it appears like the Board of Supervisors is playing musical chairs with its executive leadership.

And of course it is the secrecy of the executive searches that enables a little gang of mobile administrators to hop, skip and jump around the United Staes, getting ever higher salaries with every move.

Yes, LSU's secrecy benefits an executive search firm; it benefits a small group of suitcase administrators; and it benefits the attorneys.  But who are the losers?  The people of Louisiana, who are paying for this charade through their taxes.

References

Editorial. 109 days in contempt. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, September 1, 2013, p. 6B.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The New Arrogance of Our Public Universities: LSU Refuses to Comply with a Court Order

Mark Emmert: LSU Prez 1999-2004
Goodbye, Mark. We hardly knew ye!
Never disobey a court order--this was the advice my senior partner gave me when I practiced law as a young man.  You can protest a judge's order, appeal the order, seek to have the order rescinded, but never disobey. 

And of course this was good advice. The rule of law in the United States breaks down completely if some parties feel free to disregard the rulings of the courts. 

But maybe the old rules no longer apply.  The Baton Rouge Advocate reported yesterday that Louisiana State University refused to comply with Judge Janice Clark's order to turn over the records of LSU's recent search for a new Chancellor, a search that ended last spring with the selection of F. King Alexander. 

Judge Clark ruled that LSU is in contempt of court for refusing to turn over the records, and she fined the university $500 a day until it complies. As of August 14th, the total fine amounts to about $46,000.

Judge Clark's ruling came as the result of a lawsuit filed The Advocate and The New Orleans Times-Picayune.  The newspapers had sued LSU under Louisiana's open records law, seeking to get the records of LSU's Chancellor search process.  The newspapers want to know the names of the other applicants for the Chancellor's job.  According to the Advocate, there were 34 semi-finalists whose names were never revealed.

LSU maintains that these 34 individuals never formally applied for the Chancellor's position.  According to LSU, Alexander was the sole formal applicant, and thus LSU is only obliged to reveal Alexander's name in connection with the Chancellor search process.

This is sheer sophistry. It is ludicrous for LSU to argue that King Alexander, the man who was named Chancellor of LSU, is the only guy who applied for the job.  Without question other people also sought the position.

LSU argues that Alexander was the only applicant in a technical sense under its interpretation of the open records law. But Judge Clark and a Louisiana appellate court rejected LSU's argument, and Judge Clark ordered LSU to turn over the records. Now LSU is obliged to comply with Judge Clark's order.

Why--you are probably asking--does LSU want to hide the names of people who applied for the LSU Chancellor's job? LSU argues that revealing the names discourages good candidates from applying for the position.  If a sitting college president applies for the LSU Chancellor's job and the president's present employer finds out, then the president might find his or her current job in jeopardy.

That is reasonable argument, and many universities across the United States basically take the same position. We must keep our executive searches secret, they say, so we can attract the best candidates.

But look who benefits from this philosophy--college presidents and other senior executives who are constantly trolling for their next job and don't want people to know about it.

On the other hand, don't our universities and other public institutions deserve to know if their leaders are in the job market?  Of course they do.

And here is an example of why it is important for a university to know that its chief executive is looking for a new job. LSU hired Mark Emmert as its chancellor in 1999, hiring him away from the University of Connecticut where Emmert was president.  As a recent USA Today story documented, Emmert left UConn just ahead of a scandal having to do with construction projects.  Emmert stayed at LSU five years and left for the University of Washington, leaving behind a scandal in LSU's athletic program. 

As USA Today pointed out, Emmert seems to have a record of moving from place to place, leaving scandals behind at his former jobs.  "Rightly or wrongly," the USA Today reporter observed, Emmert "has a history of dodging blame in scandals that have festered on his campuses, sometimes moving on to a more lucrative job before the full extent becomes known."

Today, our colleges and universities are experiencing a crisis in moral leadership.  College presidents have basically become fund raisers who are paid exorbitant salaries.  Many are constantly looking for their next gig and an an even bigger pay check.

It seems to me that university governing boards and taxpayers are entitled to know if their executive leaders are shopping around for new jobs.  For one thing, that fact may be an indication the executive wants to leave before a scandal breaks.

There was a time when universities followed the law, but no longer.  Increasingly, they have become arrogant institutions, raising tuition nearly every year, paying their senior leaders fat salaries and benefits, and resisting all efforts to hold them accountable.

I agree with the Baton Rouge Advocate's editorial on this controversy. By refusing to turn over records of its Chancellor search process, LSU has shown contempt not only for a court but for the people LSU is supposed to serve--the people of Louisiana.

Refereces

Editorial. Our Views: LSU Board shows its contempt. Baton Rouge Advocate, August 16, 2013. Accessible at: http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/6783345-123/our-views-lsu-board-shows

Joe Gyan Jr. Judge fines LSU Board. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate. August 15, 2013, p. 1.

Brent Schrotetenboer. Digging into the past of NCAA President Mark Emmert. USA Today, April 2, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2013/04/02/ncaa-president-emmert-previous-cases-uconn-lsu/2047607/

Rodger Sherman. Mark Emmert failed to oversee at UConn and LSU too, according to LSU Today. SBNation.com.  Accessible at: http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2013/4/3/4176742/mark-emmert-ncaa-president-usa-today