Dealing with Student Loan Debt

In recent years the United States government has taken a large position in the student loan industry in this country.  An unintended consequence of government involvement is that tuition prices have risen.  Education institutions on average raised their tuition rates based on the security of the government backed loans.  This means that universities and colleges get more, but what about students?  Students now must take out larger loans as opposed to the previous practice of letting private companies issue student loans.  Not surprisingly, students now have more difficulty paying back loans, especially given the current economic downturn. 

            I recently came across an interesting article posted on the New York Times website regarding student loan settlement. http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/tips-on-settling-defaulted-federal-student-loans/  This article gave a few tips to help people manage student loan default situations.  The author notes some simple, yet effective techniques to help reduce and payoff outstanding student loan debt.   

What to do if you've been in a car accident

If you are driving on a road, out of nowhere you are stuck from behind you,

1. Get to a safe area

●     Chances are you were involved in a collision on a road and now you will need to move to the side of the road or exit the interstate. Moving your vehicle to a safe area will reduce your chances significantly by not causing further damage or producing more injuries to either party involved. The safety of those involved is the most important above all.

2. Call the police

●     Calling the police department should be a top priority once involved in an accident. The police officer(s) that arrive to the scene of the car accident will be able to tend to anyone that is possibly hurt or injured to get those persons the medical attention needed. They are also able to file a formal report so there’s documentation for a claim for insurance purposes. Lastly, the police officer is the person to establish who is at fault.

3. Call your insurance company

●     Calling your insurance provider is extremely necessary. You are letting them know you’ve been in an accident so they can get a rental car for you (if needed). If car is damaged, you are also making them aware of the fact that your car is damaged and needs to be repaired.

4. Swap info with the other driver(s) involved (https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/consequences-hit-run-accident.html)

●     A hit and run is illegal, while fleeing the scene of an accident is not, however it is an admittance of guilt.

●     Alabama Code Title 32. Motor Vehicles and Traffic § 32-10-3 https://codes.findlaw.com/al/title-32-motor-vehicles-and-traffic/al-code-sect-32-10-1.html

○     The driver of any motor vehicle which collides with any motor vehicle or other vehicle which is unattended shall immediately stop and shall then and there either locate and notify the operator or owner of such vehicle of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle striking the unattended vehicle or shall leave in a conspicuous place in or on the vehicle struck a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and/or the owner of the vehicle doing the striking and a statement of the circumstances thereof.

●     32-10-4

○     The driver of any motor vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to fixtures legally upon or adjacent to a highway shall take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of such property of such fact and of his or her name and address and of the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving and shall upon request exhibit his or her driver's license and shall make report of such accident when and as required in Section 32-10-5 .

●     32-10-6

○     Every person convicted of violating Sections 32-10-1 through 32-10-5 or any of the provisions thereof, when such violation involved only damage to property, shall be punished the same as prescribed by law for a Class A misdemeanor; provided, however, that every person convicted of violating such sections, or any provisions thereof, when such violation involved death or personal injury, shall be punished the same as prescribed by law for a Class C felony.

●     Swapping information can help each other involved with claims from their insurance company once liability is proven to help identify who would be responsible for paying for damages possibly incurred.

*Law enforcement has 24 hours to complete a report or investigate the scene of the accident and send a copy to the Uniform Accident Report agency. https://codes.findlaw.com/al/title-32-motor-vehicles-and-traffic/al-code-sect-32-10-7.html

●     Every law enforcement officer who in the regular course of duty investigates a motor vehicle accident, either at the time of and at the scene of the accident or thereafter by interviewing participants or witnesses, shall, within 24 hours after completing such investigation, forward the necessary completed written report or copy thereof of such accident to the director on the uniform accident report form supplied by the director.

*REMEMBER: Never admit fault or apologize. Admitting guilt determines that you are liable for causing the accident before the police arrive at the scene to judge who is accountable for the auto accident.

5. Document EVERYTHING!!!

●     Taking pictures of damages can help your insurance agency get a better understanding of what happened and can establish which parts of the vehicle if not the whole vehicle were damaged, so the claim will list what all needs to be handled in regards to fixing the damages if any were accumulated.

6. Consider going to the doctor

●     You never know if something internally is wrong and how to be treated by the doctor or if you are okay. You can also document the costs to be reimbursed.

The Birmingham Problem

“The Birmingham Problem”

As the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh receives honorable mention in the packed daily news cycle, little attention has been placed on the decades-long strategy employed by GOP lawmakers and pundits. The Republican-led Senate has confirmed judicial nominees in record numbers to fill vacancies in the federal court system, and is making it a priority to confirm judges over all other appointed officials. Why is this important? The vast majority of these confirmations are young to middle-aged conservative white men, who will shape the direction of the nation’s federal laws at every level for decades to come. The next presidential election cannot undo what is currently being done in the federal courts.

The judiciary in Birmingham, Alabama, the political and economic center of Jefferson County, represents a direct contrast to the federal system. Judges in Alabama are elected, and in Jefferson County, minority judges make up almost 60% of the judiciary, which makes sense representationally given that Birmingham in 72% African American. In fact, the circuit court and each sub-division is presided over by a judge of color. African American women compromise almost 70% of the minority representation on the bench. If every Democratic judicial nominee prevails in the November general election, then twenty-eight of the thirty-nine judicial seats will be occupied by African American judges. To be clear, this is not an assault on non-African American judges. There are many non-African American judges in Jefferson County that are fair and impartial so the problem isn’t with any individual judges. The aim here is to address the systemic issues and the historic disparities.

While many people think that diversity in the courts is a net positive and results in more fair results in the court system, there are those who are opposed to the high numbers of minority judges in Jefferson County. To those hostile to the notion of a majority-minority bench, the phenomenon in Jefferson County is cause for alarm. In the halls of the State legislature and among certain ideological circles outside — and to some extent inside — Jefferson County, the diversity on the Jefferson County bench is openly referred to as the “Birmingham problem.” Despite the fact that minority lawyers were effectively barred from serving as judges until after the civil rights movement, and that outside of Jefferson County minority judges are virtually nonexistent, state and county lawmakers have been working around the clock to reduce the number of minority judges in Jefferson County.

In fact, the crusade to turn back time and color on the Jefferson County bench transcends political party, gender, and socio-economic status. The Jefferson County Democratic party has been plagued with division as result of party leadership discouraging African American lawyers from running against white Democrats, or even white Republicans for that matter. Every election cycle, there is an effort by the Democratic leadership to insulate white Democratic judges from primary challenges by African Americans by designating white judicial seats. African American attorneys are often encouraged in some form to run against an incumbent African American judge, to wait their turn, or not to seek election at all.

The desire to control the minority representation on the bench transcends party. However, the Republican response to the “Birmingham problem” has been swift and fierce. In March of 2017, the Judicial Reallocation Bill was signed into law. The entire purpose of the law is to reduce the number of judges in Jefferson County by giving those seats to other counties with no minority representation on the bench. Citizens of Birmingham, is this the future you want for a judiciary that is supposed to reflect the people it serves? Statistics consistently show that communities of color continue to receive harsher penalties for the same crimes as their white counterparts. Given the fact that justice in not administered equally, actively reducing the representation of judges of color in Jefferson County leaves already vulnerable populations even more vulnerable and represents a step backward in the continuing arc towards justice. Until the day arrives where equality in judicial outcomes is standard across the courts, Alabama should not take steps backward.

Open Letter by Richard A. Rice, Public Interest Attorney

Public Interest Law

Public interest law is defined as “the practice of law to further interests shared by the entire public or communities within it. The clients and issues handled by a public interest law firm reflect broad areas of public concern, such as illegal discrimination, poverty alleviation, consumer protection, and equitable education.” (“Public Interest”). This practice takes place in numerous settings including, but not limited to, educational and public international organizations, private public interest law firms, private law firms carrying out pro bono work, and all levels of government agencies (Harvard Law School).

Public interest work is an immensely important and meritorious area of law as it allows those among us who are underrepresented and unrepresented to receive the legal representation and assistance they need. These attorneys give a voice to the disadvantaged and systematically mistreated to make for a more equitable society, a goal we should all strive toward. In a 2009 lecture on the values of being a public interest attorney by Georgetown professor Philip G. Schrag, a quote by Albert Einstein is cited: “Striving for social justice is the most valuable thing to do in life.” The single sentence perfectly embodies the worth of this practice of law. Public interest attorneys spend their career pursuing justice and refusing anything less. In doing so, they create long-lasting positive changes in the lives and societies around them.

Alabama is riddled with issues relevant to public interest work. Two of the most pressing issues the state currently faces include environmental racism and the need for consumer protection in financial markets. Environmental racism occurs when governments or companies subject racial minorities and people of low socioeconomic standing to a detrimental standard of living by orchestrating communities in such a way that these individuals live near environmental hazards (Downey 2005). It is also evident in the refusal of many governments and organizations to meet the needs of these people groups when hazards are identified. It has been suggested that the well-known Flint, Michigan water problem is a prime example of environmental racism (Eligon 2016); however, not all cases of environmental racism pick up such traction with the general public. The vast majority of these situations remain unnoticed and undocumented.

The need for consumer protection in financial markets is another pressing issue for public interest attorneys in Alabama, particularly in regards to student loans, mortgages, and equal access to capital. Of baccalaureate students who borrow money for college, an astounding 27.2% graduate with what has been defined as excessive debt (Kantrowitz 2016). In the current economic climate and taking into consideration the depreciation of a college degree, students are being buried in insurmountable debt and taken advantage of by those providing loans. Similarly, mortgage fraud and unfair foreclosures have led to a dangerous world for mortgage borrowers. With supposedly reputable companies making unauthorized changes and extending loans, those who borrow money are at risk for manipulation and mistreatment that can lead to financial hardships (Morrell 2017). Access to capital is yet another area in which people are unfairly disadvantaged. According to the National Women’s Business Council, women-owned businesses start with half as much capital as men-owned businesses. Correspondingly, racial minorities and young entrepreneurs tend to be disfavored by bankers when attempting to acquire capital. Due to this inequality in access to capital, the people in these populations face greater difficulty in starting, maintaining, and growing new businesses (Robb 2013).

Public interest law is an essential practice area that assists in ensuring an equal playing field and proper representation for all who are faced with discrimination and inequity. The practice is particularly valuable to the state of Alabama due to the disadvantages embedded in the normative culture of our state. In Alabama, public interest attorneys help fight issues such as the ones discussed above and continue to fight for the best interests of society.

"Bureau of Consumer Protection." Federal Trade Commission. Federal Trade Commission, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2017. <https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consumer-protection>.

Downey, Liam. "Assessing Environmental Inequality: How The Conclusions We Draw Vary According To The Definitions We Employ." Sociological Spectrum 25.3 (2005): 349-69. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

Eligon, John. "A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint ." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

Harvard Law School. "Public Service Practice Settings." Harvard Law School. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2017. <http://hls.harvard.edu/dept/opia/what-is-public-interest-law/public-service-practice-settings/>.

Kantrowitz, Mark. "Why the Student Loan Crisis Is Even Worse Than People Think." Time. Time Inc., 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

Morrell, Alex. "Wells Fargo May be in Hot Water Again." Business Insider. Business Insider Inc., 15 June 2017. Web. 03 Aug. 2017. <http://www.businessinsider.com/wells-fargo-mortgage-scandal-lawsuits-2017-6>.

National Women's Business Council. Rep. National Women's Business Council, n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2017. <https://www.nwbc.gov/sites/default/files/Access%20to%20Capital%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf>.

"Public Interest." The Rice Firm, LLC. The Rice Firm, LLC, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2017. <http://www.ricefirmllc.com/practice-areas/public-interest/>.

Robb, Alicia. Access to Capital among Young Firms, Minority-owned Firms, Women-owned Firms, and High-tech Firms. Rep. no. 403. U.S. Small Business Administration, Apr. 2013. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

Schrag, Philip G. "Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Public Interest Lawyer?" Georgetown University Law Center. 2009. Web. 3 Aug. 2017. <https://law.duke.edu/curriculum/pdf/why_pi_lawyer.pdf>.