Newspapers have dedicated many inches of column space
in the course of covering my office’s entanglements with the federal
government. So much so, residents might be tempted to believe that pushing back
against the regulatory leviathan was the attorney general’s principal, if not
sole, responsibility. The truth is, however, that these lawsuits represent but
a slender slice of what is entrusted to our care.
The Attorney General’s office exists in order to
defend the rights of all Texans. On occasion that means gearing up the
figurative troops and daring the federal bureaucracy to “come and take it.” More
often than not though, it means putting a stop to those individuals who would seek
in some way to defraud Texas residents of their hard-earned money.
The Consumer Protection Division (CPD) offers a great
example of this. The CPD is a 95-person specialized enforcement team, with
highly trained attorneys and investigators stationed in six cities across
Texas. It is exclusively dedicated to being the voice of Texas consumers and
their shield against exploitive business practices.
Although the CPD’s mission might sound
straightforward, the cases and schemes they pursue are in fact quite eclectic. The
CPD, for instance, has taken point in the fight against synthetic drugs, such
as “kush” and “spice.” These drugs are highly dangerous, often lethal, and very
much illegal. Unscrupulous retailers nonetheless market and sell them over the
counter, giving consumers the impression that the packages are safe for
The CPD has filed 11 lawsuits against retailers to
date, securing in one memorable instance a nearly $1 million jury verdict and
shutting down a store after it continued to sell illegal substances in another.
Their work has undoubtedly saved lives.
In addition, the CPD has played a crucial role in protecting
consumer privacy rights. Back in 2015, the CPD, along with our Bankruptcy and
Collections Division, led a 38 state coalition to stop RadioShack from selling certain
personal information it had collected from its customers. Thanks to their
efforts, the bulk of RadioShack’s data was destroyed, and no credit card
numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, or phone numbers entered
Another occasion saw the CPD securing a final
judgement against Volkswagen over its deceptive marketing of “clean” vehicles.
Volkswagen, which blatantly falsified emission standards tests, will pay the
state of Texas $50 million in penalties and attorney fees as well as establish
a $10 billion restitution program. Volkswagen has set up a $2.7 billion trust
fund designed to mitigate any environmental harm caused by their fraudulent
actions. We expect Texas to benefit from as much as $191 million from that
What my office has found is that most companies act
in good faith. Most companies recognize that the competitive market penalizes
dishonest business practices and that it is therefore in their best interest to
treat their customers right.
The CPD exists for the occasions when ignorance of
law, carelessness, or the desire for profitable shortcuts overrides a company’s
better instincts. It bridges current practice with the high standards Texas
expects its businesses to meet.
But the CPD cannot do it alone. They need your help. The
sheer size of the Texas market—over 2.3 million private businesses—along with
its complexity means that it is doubtful CPD staff will learn of commercial
misbehavior unless a civic-minded consumer reports it.
That is why the CPD, among its more recognizable
responsibilities, collects and assesses the approximately 20,000 annual
complaints consumers submit regarding perceived violations of the law. Although
not every complaint is actionable, these filings inform investigators of where
to direct CPD resources and may give rise to a legal action.
I therefore ask each and every one of you to remain
vigilant and to not be shy about voicing your concerns to my office. State law
prohibits the CPD from filing on the behalf of specific consumers, but their
lawsuits succeed in the ultimate goal, which is stopping illegal conduct and
preserving a fair marketplace.
The cases CPD pursues help create a business climate
of which all Texans can be proud. Let us work together and demonstrate exactly
how Texans do not tolerate having their rights infringed, whether the
transgression originates from Washington, DC or closer to home.