In this episode, Scott talks to David Humphreys, a trial lawyer who practices in New Mexico and Oklahoma and specializes in suing financial institutions that lie, cheat and steal. He shares a great story of representing a disabled adult against a lender with reprehensible conduct.
Transcript for Trial Lawyer Talk, Episode 17, with David Humphreys
Scott Glovsky: Welcome to Trial Lawyer Talk. I am Scott Glovsky and I am your host for this podcast where we speak with some of the best trial lawyers in the U.S. Today we are very lucky we have with us David Humphreys. David is a gem of a human being and a gem of a lawyer who practices out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but really has a national practice. He primarily sues financial institutions for abusing everyday people. Let’s get started.
I feel great that I am sitting with David Humphreys, who is a phenomenal trial lawyer, phenomenal teacher to other trial lawyers, and a phenomenal caring and loving human being. David Humphreys has a practice that is national in scope; he goes all over the country and tries cases against companies that are, as you told me, lying, cheating, and stealing from people; primarily against financial institutions. David, thank you so much for being here.
David Humphreys: Thanks for all the kind things you just said. Thanks for having me.
SG: David, can you tell me the story of a case that had a profound impact on you?
DH: Yes, I can, and what is profound about it is I think it made a difference. It is not often that we really get to make a difference. A lot of times, I think, all we do is teach them how to be smarter, to cover up their lies and their cheating and their stealing. We had a case against a company, a very, very disreputable company called Security Finance. They are still in business; they have four or five hundred loan shops all across the country. Most folks would just drive by their stores and not even pay attention to it; you would not even notice it. They are in strip malls outskirts of towns and in small towns all over the country. It is a very, very profitable business. They basically do not pay any money in rent. They have really cheap furniture. They have a few employees and their job is to get people in, vulnerable people, in their shop and to extend a loan to desperate people, on outrageous financial terms. The terms are so outrageous and so complicated, the financial terms are, that I had the president of the company on the witness stand and I said, ‘Can you explain to this jury how you calculate this interest rate on these three loans here? How did you come up with this amount of charges?’ and she could not do it. The president of the company could not explain in simple terms, so how is a borrower supposed to understand that?
We represented a fifty-year-old man who lived in public housing, who had a developmental disability, and had about an I.Q. of 70, and had no business– you could tell by talking to him that he was a simple man who did not have the capacity to understand a loan transaction, especially one like this. They started out, what we call, loan flipping where they took out one loan and he came back in and they convinced him to get another one, and then another one and another one. When he got up to so many loans there, they would send him to one of their sister stores and they took out more and more loans, and more and more. It got to the point where he lost his home; they convinced him to pay them instead of his rent on subsidized housing, so he became homeless. He went to a homeless shelter and they actually went to the shelter, picked him up, took him in their car to the loan shop so they could renew his loan again.
He thought that he was paying his loans off; he had no idea that they were just refinancing them. The way the math works, I do not want to bore your listeners, but basically the first time you make a loan, you get almost $800. The second time, it is about half of that, and the third time, it is like $70, but you are paying the same amount of finance charges on the third and fourth loans as you do on the first one, but you get almost no cash back. So, the whole game that they play is to find people who do not have any money, trap them in debt, and to whatever is in their power to keep them in there. We can talk about it, but there is a whole bunch of different ways they can do that. They intimidate people into being trapped in debt and never being able to repay their loan.
SG: What are the ways they do that?
DH: We tried this case to a jury in Oklahoma. We uncovered evidence in the case of their… procedure manuals, for sure, was one thing. The other thing was their reports on loan shops. They have a district manager who would go around to the stores and look at her eight shops or whatever. Then they would have a manager over that and then they have a president of Oklahoma. Her name is [Linda] Burrows if I recall correctly. They would have these notes in the file like, ‘I see that you had a borrower come in who paid off their loan with a $50,000 settlement from their Worker’s Compensation back surgery injury case, yet you convince them to renew. Congratulations; that is great work; keep it up. We must convince our customers; we must sell the renewal. Persistence breaks resistance.’ These are things that they wrote.
The local newspaper, The Tulsa World, had snippets of these different things and put a front page article about this despicable business and what they are doing. What we found out was that they are targeting people who do not have the capacity to consent to a transaction; people that have developmental disabilities that are getting social security benefits, people that do not speak English as their first language, native Cherokee speakers in Oklahoma. One lady was 90 years old. She had never been to a restaurant before. She was getting a social security check and they were taking her entire check. Maybe you do not have this in the big city, but in small towns, there will be a person that everybody sees going around town with a shopping cart, you know, they are just not all there. They are the person in town everybody looks out for. They would target those people and then have them in their store and take their social security checks.
Basically, as a country, as a government, or as a society, we have decided to take a certain amount of taxes and pay that to people, give our money to people that cannot do better for themselves. This company has figured out a way to take this little bit of money we give them through very low-cost operation. They have really no real involvement in Oklahoma or any of the other states they operate in. They take all this social security money and they suck it out of the state and then they take it to their headquarters. This woman flies around in a jet, has a home in Florida; it is absolutely despicable. They are kind of laundering their money and taking it from the loan shop operation and they are putting it into– I call it laundering; there might be a better word for it. That is my opinion. They are putting it into other things like hotels and things like that. Spartanburg, South Carolina is kind of the headquarters for this thing. I do not know if it is the water or what, but there is a whole bunch of businesses basically out of South Carolina that do this. I am not sure exactly where they are located, but other companies like World, Sun, that are doing the same thing. This one company has Continental Credit, Sunbelt Loans… I am not sure of the other names. There was like three or four names. It looks very low-key and under the radar, but it is really a big business; a big scam.
SG: How did you go about trying to discover the story of the case?
DH: This case was referred to us by some other lawyers and we got into the case and we listened to our client. His brother found out what was going on when he became homeless; he went to go see him at his apartment and he was not there and realized what was happening. Our client was so incapable of understanding what was happening, he thought these people were still his friends. His brother went in there and told them, ‘Do not ever do this to my brother. Do not take any more of his money, do not make any more of his loans. He does not understand; this is wrong,’ and basically got pretty loud with them.
Our client, who is his brother, was talking to them like they were friends; he did not understand. He said, ‘Hey, did you guys see the fireworks on Fourth of July? Did you guys see those big fireworks? Was that not just beautiful?’ He has the mind of a child. His favorite thing is going to the State Fair and he loves Elvis and he likes to watch his shows. We got him– I cannot remember the amount– maybe $1.75 million jury verdict. One of the press asked him what was he going to do if he got his money. He said he wanted to buy a television. He had a guardian, of course, appointed to protect him. We just figured out who he was and we got their documents to figure out what they were doing and that is how we learned that it was an intentional plan to strip the little bit of money that poor folks have from them.
SG: How did you approach telling the story at trial?
DH: We put our client between us. I have a partner, Luke Wallace. We tried this case together, we worked it all up together; all of our cases get worked on together. We put our client between us. It was a three-week trial, as I recall, and he did not testify until towards the end of it all. He sat between us and one day during trial, he stood up and said, ‘It is three o’clock. It is time for Gilligan’s Island. I need to go home.’ It was pretty clear that he was not all there. We just told the truth.
SG: Did you use in first-person or any– how did you communicate the story?
DH: The first witness we called was their company representative. We just confronted them with their own records and their notes. Invariably, it all just stands around them and makes themselves look worse instead of just saying, ‘Yes, this is horrible. We have uncovered a problem. We are going to fix it.’ They acted like there was nothing wrong with it. The tension between that and what they did to this person there, including having them go to the homeless shelter. As far as TLC techniques, there were some moments in the trial– I apologize, it has been a long time since I tried this case. We definitely tried to reverse roles with our witnesses on the stand and put them in our client’s shoes and ask them how they would feel if someone did this to their family member, things like that.
SG: What did you learn from this case?
DH: That I have a real passion for helping people that are not fully aware of their circumstances. I love protecting people like that from financial abuse and financial predators. I was shocked to figure out that this company had– this scheme; how big it was and how intentional it was. I think word of this trial got out to some of the members of the press, so I got contacted by some legislator in the state of Kansas who asked me to write some testimony up about the trial, which I did. They ended up stopping this company from going into Kansas and then that got shared with, I think, Indiana, Florida, and Arizona.
It kept them out for a while, but this has been almost ten years ago. I think the move is underway for them to spread their tentacles into other states. I would encourage your listeners to be on the lookout for the predators and take care of your family members. Make sure you know what they are doing with their money.
Here is one thing we learned: there is a very fine balance between allowing someone to be an adult, an independent human being, and not condescending them or shaming them or making them feel bad about themselves versus protecting them. You have to have an open line of communication between your family member who is vulnerable and the family member who is a caretaker. You cannot just listen to them and say everything is fine. He was ashamed of what happened to him and he knew all of his money was gone, but he was trapped in this thing. He did not want to show his brother; he felt foolish. Discovering that dynamic and spending time with the client, it was a big part of the case. I guess, really, a lot of stuff I have told you is all stuff we discovered using Trial Lawyers College techniques.
SG: How do you deal with fear?
DH: You know, it is with me all the time. You can make a choice to acknowledge it and push on anyway, or you can pretend it is not there and I think it will eat you alive if you do that. Sometimes it goes away fairly quickly in a trial and sometimes it does not, but I do not try cases because I like to show off; I try cases because I have people that need me to try their case. When you have that, I have to do it; I do not have any choice. I either have fear or I do not; I just do it anyway. I think that comes through to a jury, when you are willing to be real with them and honest with them and they see that you are struggling and it is hard for you, but you are there with them and your client anyway. They get it; they get that.
SG: Has being a trial lawyer taken a toll on you?
DH: I cannot think of another way I would rather make a living or anything else I would rather do and yes, it has. It is hard work, but anything that has meaning is not going to be easy.
SG: How do you deal with it?
DH: Well, I did not, for a long time; we just worked away and pressed on. We had other lawyers that knew us that just kind of laughed at us or marveled that we kept sitting there in our chairs and kept paddling it out. We would go and try a big case and be back in our desks the next morning working on something else. Kind of our thing is we are always hungry. We are looking for the next big case, the next big business practice we can identify and expose as wrongful.
I think, more recently, we are trying to make some more adjustments and try to live more balanced. I think we have gotten to the point where we see what is happening, we know what is happening; we do not have to figure it out anymore. We just have to have a client and do the work we know to do already. There is a huge learning curve going into it to figure out what your trial themes are.
One thing I could say that might be helpful is we do role reversals in our office, either with a document or with the opposing witness. It just comes up naturally and it will spontaneously be… we work through an issue. One person jumps on one side, the other person jumps on the other side, and you see which one sounds better, which one seems right.
SG: When you said a role reversal with the document, meaning you would actually become the document and try to discover…
DH: Yes, or one person would take the side of the document and the other person would take the side of the company. What could the company possibly say to excuse or justify what is in their record? We would have every excuse possible, I think, mapped out or thought through. When they show up and they give us one of those excuses, we are ready.
SG: What is the hardest thing about being a trial lawyer?
DH: The hardest part of being a trial lawyer is not trying cases because you have got some corporate stall game going on. We call them pre-trial lawyers; they want to do everything but try a case. That is the hardest thing, I think, is doing what takes to actually get a jury trial.
SG: What advice do you have for young lawyers?
DH: Only do it if you love it. It is not a great way to just get rich quick. Do what you love.
SG: If you were to use three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
DH: Not willing to answer that question. [Laughs] There may be more than three, but that is what I got for you.
SG: What are you feeling right now?
DH: I am relieved. I did not know what was coming my way and hopefully, it is helpful to someone. I am grateful. Thank you for asking me to do it.
SG: Thank you for taking your time and sharing your wisdom with us. I very much appreciate it. I am very glad; you have a lot of good lessons and a lot of wisdom that you shared with us. Thank you.
DH: Thank you.
SG: Thank you for joining us today for Trail Lawyer Talk. If you like the show, I would really appreciate it if you could give us a good review on iTunes and I would love to get your feedback. You can reach me at www.scottglovsky.com. That is S-C-O-T-T-G-L-O-V-S-K-Y.com. I would love to hear your feedback. You can also check out the book that I published called Fighting Health Insurance Denials: A Primer for Lawyers. That is on Amazon. I put the book together based on 20 years of suing health insurance companies for denying medical care to people and it provides a general outline of how to fight health insurance denials. Have a great week and we will talk to you in the next episode.