As readers of this blog already know, Professor Jeff Sovern and I come at most issues from different sides of the street. Over the years, through our respective blogs and at various programs, we have engaged in spirited but respectful debate about many consumer finance issues. For that reason, I was particularly disappointed to read Jeff’s blog post about Andrew Smith’s appointment as Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Despite his comment that he does not “mean that Mr. Smith is a thief,” Jeff’s characterization of Andrew as a “Payday Lender Lawyer” in the title of his blog post coupled with his use of the quote “set a thief to catch a thief,” seems intended to raise questions about Andrew’s integrity based solely on his past representation of payday lenders. Although we strongly disagree with Jeff’s support for the CFPB’s payday lending rule and his criticism of the payday lending industry, those matters are certainly fair game for debate. However, Andrew has had an unblemished ethical record as an attorney in private practice and as a government attorney in his previous tenure with the FTC. Indeed, Andrew is considered to be among the country’s most prominent consumer financial services lawyers, as evidenced by his position as Chair of the American Bar Association Consumer Financial Services Committee, his appointment long ago as a fellow of the American College of Consumer Financial Services Lawyers, and his ranking by Chambers USA which evaluates America’s leading lawyers for business.
We also strongly reject the inference that payday lending is a form of theft and observe that, regardless of how an attorney’s clients are viewed, it is bad policy for a lawyer’s qualifications for government appointment to depend on his or her clients’ reputations. If that were the standard, white collar criminal lawyers would never qualify for government service.
I am confident that in his new leadership role at the FTC, Andrew will continue to adhere to the highest ethical standards.