Democratic attorney general candidates debate - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Democratic attorney general candidates debate

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Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:03 pm | Updated: 12:41 am, Sun Aug 15, 2010.

The former state banking chief accused a foe in the attorney general's race of filing a lawsuit against a payday lender to get some publicity and then abandoning the case.

Felecia Rotellini said Wednesday night that Vince Rabago, then an assistant attorney general, filed suit in December against Quik Cash charging the payday lending firm with deceptive debt-collection practices. A month later he resigned to run for attorney general.

"That lawsuit has never made it out of the starting gate,'' Rotellini charged during the televised debate among the three Democrats running to be the next attorney general. She said he "walked out'' on the victims.

Rabago responded that he managed to obtain an injunction against the company before he left.

"That's a lie,'' Rotellini responded. "There's no injunction on the books.''

That, however, is not true: An examination of court records by Capitol Media Services shows there not only is an injunction but attorneys for the company actually agreed to let a judge sign it, without a fight.

And the case has been on hold since March, by mutual consent, as both sides told Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Gordon they were "engaged in settlement discussions.''

The lawsuit filed by the attorney general's office charges Quik Cash engaged in "a widespread deceptive pattern'' of filing suit against those who default on their payday loans in Pima County justice courts, "far from where the consumers lived or where the loans occurred.''

According to the lawsuit, this practice does more than make it more expensive for borrowers to fight the lawsuit. It makes it more likely that a borrower will not respond to the lawsuit because the cost of fighting it in Pima County -- or even hiring an attorney to ask that the case be moved locally -- makes no sense given that the amounts of money involved are so small, "effectively depriving consumers of having their day in local court.''

Rabago got in a few shots of his own during the 25-minute debate televised on KAET-TV, blasting Rotellini for going to work for a law firm that represents banks right after she had been superintendent of the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions, the agency that oversees state-chartered banks.

On air, Rotellini said she did regulate "the small community banks that are in our communities that support our small businesses that are run by independent-spirited entrepreneurs.'' But rather than address the question of the conflict, she instead charged that Rabago does not understand the difference between these banks and the big nationally regulated banks.

After the show, though, she denied there was anything improper. Rotellini said none of the banks her firm represents ever got in trouble with her agency while she was in charge.

The squabbling between the two pretty much left out David Lujan, the third contender, who said his six years in the Arizona House of Representatives makes him more qualified than the other two.

He said all three of the contenders have courtroom experience in one form or another. But he said being the state attorney general requires "a different set of skills'' to understand the policies at issue.

"Say what you will about the Legislature, being a legislator give you an incredible education on all of the policy issues that impact the state of Arizona,'' Lujan said, including not just criminal matters but everything from aiding the mentally ill to the environment.

And he touted his two years as House minority leader.

After the debate, Lujan acknowledged that Democrats had precious few political victories in the Republican-controlled House. But Lujan said he was successful in uniting the 25-member Democratic caucus to have a unified message.

Pressed for what that actually produced, Lujan cited the budget proposals made by his caucus and the public hearings conducted around the state about the plan. In fact, though, the Republicans ignored the Democratic plan and pushed through their own.

"In our position it was very difficult to accomplish anything,'' he said. "But we reached out across the aisle more than any minority party has in a long time in terms of wanting to work on responsible solutions.''

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