Symposium highlights roles of AG, private attorneys in consumer cases

Issue December 2014 By Jason Scally

Members of the Attorney General's Office (AGO), private attorneys and business leaders gathered together at the Massachusetts Bar Association's first Consumer Advocacy Symposium and Pinnacle Awards to discuss consumer protection issues and celebrate two local companies who "do things the right way." The event, held at Suffolk University Law School, was presented by the MBA's Consumer Advocacy Task Force, which was established in 2013 by then-MBA President Douglas K. Sheff to advance the MBA's commitment to protecting consumer rights.

After a welcome by Sheff, Consumer Advocacy Task Force members Andrew Rainer and Adam C. Ponte spoke briefly about the Task Force's initiatives, including the Consumer Protection Clearinghouse - a web library of FAQs, useful links and quick-tip videos on several consumer-related topics, which will be featured on the MBA's companion MassLawHelp.com website.

The symposium's first panel, moderated by Task Force member Nadine Cohen, involved discussions about the work of the AGO's Consumer Protection Division, the consumer mediations available at the AGO and the AGO's role in data breach litigation. Panelists included Stephanie Kahn, chief of the AGO's Consumer Protection Division; Patricia Hamilton, the director of the AGO's Public Inquiry and Assistance Center; and Assistant Attorney General Sarah Cable.

Rainer then returned to the podium to moderate the second panel, which focused on the role of private attorneys in consumer litigation brought by the commonwealth. Panelists included Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, now senior counsel at Proskauer Rose LLP; Former First Asst. Attorney General Dean Richlin, now a partner at Foley Hoag; Suffolk University Law School Professor Kathleen Engel; and Stuart Rossman, director of litigation at the National Consumer Law Center.

Following the panel discussions, MBA President Marsha V. Kazarosian presented the MBA Pinnacle Awards to Dancing Deer Baking Company and Staples, Inc. - two Massachusetts companies that "thrive and do right by their customers at the same time," she said.

"Often, when we talk about consumer protection we focus on helping consumers resolve their problems with companies that fall short of expectations. But there are companies that do things the right way," Kazarosian said. "We [at the MBA] feel it is important to highlight those companies whose business practices serve as positive models to others."

Special thanks to all the task force members who helped make this program such a success: MBA Vice President Christopher A. Kenney (chair), Alice B. Braunstein, Nadine Cohen, Francis K. Morris, Margaret Helen Paget, Jodi M. Petrocelli, Adam C. Ponte and Andrew Rainer.