05 24 2016
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  • The judge concluded Officer Edward Nero played little role in the arrest and wasn't responsible for the failure by police to buckle Gray in  
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  • Bill Cosby faces a preliminary hearing Tuesday to determine if his criminal sex-assault case in suburban Philadelphia goes to trial.Prosecutors had declined to charge the comedian-actor over the 2005 complaint, but arrested him in December after his explosive deposition in the woman's lawsuit became public. In the testimony given in that deposition, Cosby is grilled about giving drugs and alcohol to women before sex; making secret payments to ex-lovers; and hosting Andrea Constand at his home. They knew each other through Temple University, where he was a trustee and she managed the women's basketball team. Bill Cosby's wife refused to answer dozens of questions during a combative deposition in a defamation lawsuit filed by seven women who say the comedian branded them liars after they accused him of sexually assaulting them, according to a transcript released Friday. Camille Cosby was subjected to intense questioning by the women's lawyer, who repeatedly pressed her to say whether she believes her husband "acted with a lack of integrity" during their 52-year marriage. The lawyer also asked if her husband used his position and power "to manipulate young women." Camille Cosby didn't answer those questions and many others after her lawyer cited marital privilege, the legal protection given to communications between spouses. She repeatedly said she had "no opinion" when pressed on whether she viewed her husband's behavior as dishonest and a violation of their marriage vows. About 50 women have publicly accused Bill Cosby of forcing unwanted sexual contact on them decades ago. Cosby has denied the allegations. He faces a criminal case in Pennsylvania, where prosecutors have charged him with sexually violating a former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand. He has pleaded not guilty. Camille Cosby answered questions in the deposition Feb. 22 and again April 19 after her lawyers argued unsuccessfully to stop it. A judge ruled she would have to give a deposition but said she could refuse to answer questions about private communications between her and her husband. Camille Cosby's lawyer, Monique Pressley, repeatedly cited that privilege and advised her not to answer many questions asked by the women's lawyer, Joseph Cammarata. The exchanges between Cammarata and Cosby became testy at times, and she admonished him: "Don't lecture me. Just keep going with the questions." Using a transcript of a deposition Bill Cosby gave in a civil lawsuit filed by Constand in 2005 and a transcript of an interview she gave to Oprah Winfrey in 2000, Cammarata asked Camille Cosby about extramarital affairs her husband had. "Were you aware of your husband setting up trusts for the benefit of women that he had a sexual relationship with?" Cammarata asked. She didn't answer after her lawyer cited marital privilege. Cammarata asked her about Shawn Thompson, a woman who said Bill Cosby fathered her daughter, Autumn Jackson, in the 1970s. Jackson was convicted in 1997 of attempting to extort money from Bill Cosby to prevent her from telling a tabloid she's his daughter. He acknowledged he had an affair with her mother and had given her money. "Was it a big deal when this came up in the 1970s that your husband had — big deal to you that your husband had an extramarital affair and potentially had a daughter from that extramarital affair?" Cammarata asked. "It was a big deal then, yes," Camille Cosby replied. She said she had "no opinion" on whether her husband's admission he obtained quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex violated their marriage vows. Her lawyer objected and instructed her not to answer when Cammarata asked her if she ever suspected she had been given any type of drug to alter her state of consciousness when she had sex with her husband. A spokesman for the Cosbys declined to comment on her deposition. The Cosbys have a home in Shelburne Falls, an hour's drive from Springfield, where the lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages, was filed. An attorney handling a separate lawsuit against Bill Cosby revealed Friday that Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner provided sworn testimony Wednesday. In the sexual battery lawsuit filed in Los Angeles, Judy Huth says Cosby forced her to perform a sex act on him at the Playboy Mansion around 1974, when she was 15. Bill Cosby's former lawyers have accused Huth of attempting to extort him before filing the case and have tried unsuccessfully to have it dismissed. Huth's attorney, Gloria Allred, said Hefner's testimony will remain under seal for now. Hefner also was named as a defendant in a case filed Monday by former model Chloe Goins, who accuses Bill Cosby of drugging and sexually abusing her at the Playboy Mansion in 2008.   The Associated Press generally doesn't identify people who say they're victims of sexual abuse, but the women accusing Cosby have come forward to tell their stories.___AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
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Charlene Crowell

A key federal regulator took two steps to ensure that 2016 would bring an important change for consumers harassed by illegal debt collector actions.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which regulates financial deals, ordered EZCorp, Inc. to refund $7.5 million to 93,000 consumers and pay an additional $3 million in penalties for illegal debt on high-cost payday and installment loans.

This is the third case where the CFPB, just 3 years old this month, has taken action against a large national payday lender.

CFPB found that EZCORP collected debts with a litany of illegal actions that included visits to homes and/or workplaces. Even worse, by requiring payments via electronic fund transfers, consumers often wound up with multiple charges. The required electronic withdrawals from consumer accounts frequently triggered additional overdraft fees charged by banks. CFPB's investigation that began in July determined multiple violations of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act's ban on unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

Days later on December 28, CFPB filed a proposed settlement in federal court that once approved, will stop a Georgia-based law firm and its principals from flooding courts with lawsuits that were as faulty as they were prevalent in harming consumers. Some consumer advocates believe that this first-of-its-kind suit and settlement together set a significant precedent.

This second enforcement action culminated a July 2014 lawsuit brought by CFPB against a Georgia-based law firm, Frederick J. Hanna and Associates, for operating an illegal debt collection lawsuit mill. Specifically, CFPB charged the firm with two major violations:

• Intimidating consumers with deceptive court filings that enabled the firm to churn out hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over a four-year period from 2009 to 2014; and
• Introducing faulty or unsubstantiated evidence to support its lawsuits, resulting in the collection of millions of dollars each year – often from consumers who may not have owed debts.

“The Hanna firm relied on deception and faulty evidence to coerce consumers into paying debts that often could not be verified or may not be owed,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Debt collectors that use the court system for purposes of intimidation should reconsider how their practices are harming consumers.”

With court approval, Hanna and Associates and its principals will:

• Pay a $3.1 million penalty;
• End illegal collection and intimidation tactics;
• Be banned from filing or threatening lawsuits without substantial and specific documentation on the affected consumer's debt; and
• Stop the use of deceptive court documents to support its cases.

In addition, three of the law firm's clients – JP Morgan Chase, Portfolio Recovery Associates and Encore Capital Group must also revamp their debt collection practices and then refund millions to harmed consumers. These actions stem from separate collection cases.

“People struggling to pay their bills should not also fear harassment, humiliation or negative employment consequences because of debt collectors,” concluded Cordray. “Borrowers should be treated with common decency...[W]e will not tolerate illegal debt collection practices.”

Here's hoping that more deceptive and illegal lending practices are brought to an end in 2016.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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