Winter 2008 Faculty News

The National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA) recently awarded University of Florida Law Professor Christopher L. Peterson (above) its Consumer Advocate of the Year Award for 2007 for his research on predatory lending and his advocacy for legislation adopted last year by Congress that caps the interest rate lenders may charge military personnel.

UF Law Professor Takes Top Consumer Advocate Award

Peterson, an associate professor at UF’s Levin College of Law, co-authored a study last year with Steven M. Graves, an assistant professor of geography at California State University, which helped spur the U.S. Congress to pass legislation protecting military families from predatory lenders who charge interest rates that can reach well into the triple digits. The study surveyed more than 13,000 zip codes and found that payday loan companies clustered in areas near military bases. The findings were cited in a report by the Pentagon, and Peterson testified before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Just 15 days after Peterson’s testimony, Congress agreed to legislation prohibiting lenders from imposing an interest rate of more than 36 percent on loans to members of the armed forces or their dependants. Peterson called it “probably the most consumer-friendly legislation Congress has passed in a generation.”

Award Given Only Occasionally for Distinguished Work

The NACAA is a not-for-profit association of U.S. and Canadian government agencies that are responsible for enforcing consumer protection law. NACAA Executive Director Elizabeth Owen said the award is not presented annually and is only given when the nominating committee recognizes a truly outstanding person who has distinguished himself in the field of consumer protection. More than anyone else in the country, she said, Peterson recognized the devastating impact of payday lending on the military, regular citizens and the economy.

“We credit him for drawing national attention to this problem, which has plagued consumer protection agencies for years,” Owen said. “Members of NACAA are honored to know Chris, made better by his example and inspired by his dedication. The emphasis on consumer protection and the importance of taking care of those people victimized by fraud and greed seems to have been brushed aside lately. At such a young age Chris has already accomplished so much — everyone in the consumer protection field can’t wait to see what he does next.”

Peterson, who began teaching in 2003, has been studying predatory lending for years and is the author of Taming the Sharks: Towards a Cure for the High Cost Credit Market, which received the American College of Consumer Financial Services Attorneys’ Best Book of the Year Award for 2004.

In addition to capping interest rates, the bill also prohibits mandatory binding arbitration in contracts with military service members. Critics of arbitration argue that it is a more expensive, secret system designed by big business to deflect rather than resolve consumer complaints. This ban, Peterson said, creates an exciting new exception to the Federal Arbitration Act, a law which many believe is being used by big business to deny consumers access to the civil justice system.

Peterson’s current research offers a startling analysis of how many state legislatures use small, innocuous numbers in usury law in an attempt to minimize the public outcry over their decision to legalize triple-digit interest rate consumer loans.

“It feels like further confirmation that my research is being noticed and maybe making a small difference in the world,” Peterson said. “And to have a big group of people from around the country get together and agree that that’s happened is really very gratifying.”

Professor Testifies on the Hill

UF Law Professor Michael Seigel testified in September before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on legislation that would limit federal prosecutors’ ability to pressure cooperation from companies under investigation for corporate fraud. Seigel testified at a hearing on “Examining Approaches to Corporate Fraud Prosecutions and the Attomey-Client Privilege Under the McNulty Memorandum.” A video of his testimony is online as a link from his website at www.law.ufl.edu/faculty/michael-l-seigel.

Sustainability Addressed

Tom Ankersen, Legal Skills professor and director of the Conservation Clinic, has been named as UF’s first Provost’s Faculty Fellow for Sustainability. The one-year appointment charges him with assisting the Office of the Provost with the development a university-wide academic program in sustainability.

New Faculty Members Join UF Law

UF Law welcomes two new faculty members to its teaching ranks.

Shani King has joined the faculty as an assistant professor. He previously was a staff attorney with Legal Services for Children in San Francisco and a guest lecturer at University of San Francisco School of Law and University of California-Berkeley School of Law.

After earning a B.A. from Brown University and J.D. from Harvard Law School, he completed the Harvard Sheldon Knox Traveling Fellowship and went on to work for two New York firms, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Silberberg.

Assistant Legal Skills Professor Leslie Knight has joined the faculty from UF’s Office of the General Counsel, where she continues to be Of Counsel to the university. Knight has a B.S. from Florida State University and a J.D. from Duke University School of Law.