Search

Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

Category

Law School

My 10 Year Civil Law Anniversary

“How did you get into filing lawsuits?  Like, if I wanted to sue the government, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

When I first filed suit against the TSA, almost 5 years ago now, I had a little bit of experience. Ten years ago this month, a collection agency ignored me when I told them I didn’t owe any money, proceeding instead to put a disputed account on my credit report.  So, I looked into what my options were, and found out that there are a lot of federal laws surrounding third-party collection of debts.  Collection agencies have to provide some very specific dispute resolution procedures, represent things honestly, and avoid abusive practices.  These laws, found mostly in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 USC § 1692 prohibit things like:

  • Threatening to take an action that it can’t, or doesn’t plan to, take (even “we’ll take you to court if you don’t pay” is illegal if they don’t have any plans to actually sue)
  • Pretending to be an attorney
  • Communicating false information (e.g., to a credit reporting agency)
  • Failing to communicate that a debt is disputed when it is
  • Calling before 8 AM or after 9 PM
  • Repeatedly calling with intent to annoy
  • Sending letters with markings on the outside (e.g., “DEADBEAT”) to embarass you into paying

15 USC § 1692(c) – (f).  They also require notice to be sent in writing with a disclosure of the right to dispute and receive verification of the debt from the original creditor.  § 1692(g).

And so, I filed Corbett v. GC Services, Inc., 05-CV-7680 [PACER subscription required] (S.D.N.Y., Aug. 31, 2005), alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for not complying with a bunch of the rules above.  I looked up what other lawsuits looked like and wrote my own styled in the same way.  I reviewed the rules of the court.  Then I went down and paid a $250 filing fee (a bargain, as the fee is now $400), and I was in.

Justice was truly blind, as the late U.S. District Judge Richard C. Casey entered the courtroom for our first (and only) status conference with a seeing eye dog.  He seemed irritated at everyone, but denied an oral motion by the defendant to change venue and ordered the case to proceed.  G.C. Services ended up settling for an amount that I’m prohibited from disclosing, thus marking my first victory in civil court.

With that experience and a few other similar ones, when 2010 came around and the TSA was demanding to see us naked in order to fly, I was familiar with the federal courts.  Screwing around with asshole debt collectors was fun and profitable, but civil rights advocacy is fulfilling on a whole new level.  My first year of law school is almost complete, and I look forward to all the difference I can make over the decade to come.

Two Months In: A Review of Law School At Northwestern California University

[Edit – You may also be interested in my two-year update…]

In November I announced that I would begin law school at one of California’s part-time, distance learning schools, Northwestern California University School of Law. Nearly two months later, here are my thoughts so far:

First, I’m impressed with the online community that the school has built. Their integrated online platform connects forums, video lectures (both live and recorded), course materials, chat sessions for Q&A, and more, which allows every student and faculty member to meet and engage with each other.

NWCU's Online Platform
NWCU’s Online Platform

I was concerned that not going into a school would mean that I would be essentially “on my own,” but what they’ve got going on more than meets expectations.

Second, I’m impressed with the format and content of the courses. Courses run for a year and four are taken simultaneously. The basic plan for every course is that there are case books (which are, as you might expect, big thick books containing highlights of the important cases relating to a particular area of law), outlines (books that walk you through the legal concepts one must understand for a particular area of law), and supplemental resources that must be read (or listened to, in some cases) over the course period. There are a few assignments to be turned in and graded for each course, and a final exam. After the first year, there is also a state exam to pass (the California “Baby Bar“), and after the fourth and final year, of course, the actual California bar exam.

Given the state tests, there is no room for screwing around. If you haven’t studied enough to bring you to where a first year law student at a full-time law school would be, you’re done. Which brings me to the third point, which is also something I like: the study is very, very self-paced. The assignments are all known to you at the beginning of the course and have pretty generous deadlines, but it’s up to you to keep track of. If you’re the kind of person who can study daily when nothing is due for a couple of months, you’ll be great, but if you don’t and try to leave it all to the last minute, it will be literally impossible. With freedom comes responsibility, and at this point in my life, I appreciate not being micro-managed by professors. Would I have been able to keep on top of my law school game when I was 22? Probably not, and I suspect most of the students at NWCU are not fresh out of college. My work with the TSA is also a distinct advantage in that most of the legal terms, and many of the concepts, are already quite familiar to me. If this were all completely new, I’d have to take things a lot slower.

The verdict: so far, I’m extremely happy with my decision. I’d recommend the program to anyone interested in a law degree, with the caveats that: 1) you have to press yourself forward, without hand-holding, every day for 4 years or you will fail, which may not be for everyone, and 2) if your aspiration is to work at a big law firm, they’ll probably still prefer the “big name school” — but working in a big law firm seems about as pleasant as chewing on broken glass, and there are so many people out there who need representation who, with a little business skill and creativity, you can find on your own.

On This Four Year Anniversary, I’m Excited To Announce…

4th AnniversaryIt’s hard to believe that I’ve been working to roll back government abuse for 4 years, but today marks the anniversary of the filing of my first lawsuit against the TSA and the start of what now seems to be a lifetime passion for civil rights advocacy. With that in mind, to increase my efficacy as an advocate, I’m excited to announce that I am now officially a law student: Northwestern California University School of Law, Class of 2018.

California is one of the very few states to allow law school to be completed online, and NWCU’s 4-year, 100% distance learning law program will allow me to sit for the California bar and thereafter apply to the bars of most, if not all, other states. The tide is turning in favor of law degrees earned via Internet courses, with about a dozen schools offering all-online classes in California, William Mitchell in Minnesota offering a 50% online law degree, and many other schools across the country experimenting with putting at least a portion of their curriculum online. Law school will be a challenge: the time commitment is huge, the drop-out rate is high, and the bar pass rate is low, regardless of whether you attend an on-campus or online school. But if there’s anyone who can make this happen, I’m confident I can, and being able to do coursework while I travel makes this possible. I’ll be blogging about how things go, and today adding a new category, Law School, to the blog.

Tomorrow I’ll be announcing more exciting news, as my second petition for the U.S. Supreme Court’s review gets filed, and I share with you the amicus brief filed by a rights organization in favor of my petition for rehearing en banc before the 11th Circuit.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑