Prosecutor, Prosecute Thyself!

The New York Times revealed this week that more than 300 district attorneys’ offices engage in a practice that is a clear violation of legal ethics and probably illegal as well.  These prosecutors partner with debt collecting agencies, which sent thousands of threatening letters to people across the country who have bounced checks, threatening them with harsh penalties and imprisonment. The letters bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office, which gives them extra persuasive power.The companies also try to sell the check-writers  on budgeting and financial responsibility classes, and if they sign up, the district attorneys’ offices get a commission, in addition to a fee from the firms. It’s all in the interest of more efficient law enforcement, prosecutors argue; the partnerships free them to work on more serious crimes.

It doesn’t matter. The prosecutors are allowing private companies to misrepresent themselves as law enforcement officials, and to threaten prison before any crime has been proven in a court of law. The district attorneys engaging in this disgraceful practice are aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, handing over government authority to private enterprise and assisting in extortion.

And note: this is the law enforcement side of government.


Pointer: APRL

Facts: New York Times

Graphic: 123RF

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

5 thoughts on “Prosecutor, Prosecute Thyself!

  1. Writing a bad check is illegal. If someone from the prosecutor’s office signs the letter, the private companies are not “allowing private companies to misrepresent themselves as law enforcement officials”, but merely contracting with them to write letters.

    Also, one of these companies do follow ethics.

    Gale Krieg, a vice president at BounceBack, said he has turned down business from prosecutors who won’t agree to at least have all copies of the checks sent to their offices, where prosecutors can determine if a crime has been committed. Mr. Krieg, who said the company has contracts in 38 states, acknowledges the limitations: “Whether they exert oversight isn’t something that we can control.”

    • But none of the prosecutors do sign the letter…that’s the point. Then it isn’t misrepresentation, just extortion. And who the check amount is sent to doesn’t make it less unethical—how do you figure? The debt collectors are still operating dishonestly as law enforcement and still threatening jail, which they do not have proper authority to do.

    • Writing bad checks isn’t usually criminal. It only becomes a crime with the appropriate mens rea. These prosecutors treated mere negligent acts as crimes. This apart from their allowing private companies to misrepresent themselves as state agencies.

      But why is no one demanding that the _state bars_ discipline these criminally unethical prosecutors?

      Most collectors engage in patently illegal activities. What hasn’t been much reported is that the California State Bar (at least) is in league with these illegal collection operations, which they use to try to extort payment of so-called court costs.See “California State Bar Colludes with Gray-Market Criminals: Nefarious Collection Practices using ‘Wakefield Associates’ on Bogus ‘Debt.'” — .

  2. Though not really on-topic for this story, it is an excellent illustration for why I have a problem with automated speed cameras and red-light cameras. They almost universally operate under this same principle and business model–the biggest difference being that the camera companies are the ones paying the government.


  3. Been about 65 yrs since high school Latin, but I seem to remember “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who will guard the guardians?).

    Attorney friend was in law school with the head of a big collection agency in our Montana city. She says the law fraternity regards debt collectors as the lowest form of legal life, somewhere below used car salesmen.

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