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Legal Malpractice Case To Decide If Firm Is Credit Repair Organization

Florida attorney claims his laws firms do not offer credit repair services, counter to client's claim in legal malpractice case.

A Pompano Beach attorney and his law firms, one of which was a subject of a New York state student protection investigation in 2014, are headed to trial next week in a

legal malpractice case.

Otto Berges runs Berges Law Group and Consumer Protection Counsel, law firms that work to verify client debts. A former client alleges the firms violated federal and state regulations for credit repair organizations.

Anthony Bryson Sr. sued Berges in October after signing up for the firms' services through a Delray Beach-based referral service, Debt Be Gone LLC, also a defendant in the lawsuit.

The Idaho man signed a Consumer Protection Counsel agreement, which stated the firm would dispute the accuracy of Bryson's credit account balances, verify debts through debt-collection agencies and ask credit-reporting agencies to check for inaccuracies in their reports.

The contract also said the firm would file complaints with regulatory agencies and litigate and settle claims, according to court documents.

Berges Law Group and Consumer Protection Counsel wrote Bryson's creditors disputing the amounts of his debts and indicating he was considering filing for bankruptcy, which he wasn't, he said during a deposition.

Bryson claims the letters are evidence of legal malpractice. He also is seeking a refund for services he said were not performed, which he alleges is a violation of state and federal regulations.

The case hinges on whether Berges' firms are truly credit-repair organizations under the law, U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn ruled when he dismissed both parties' motions for summary judgment Monday.

Berges said during depositions that his firms do not actually bring actions on behalf of clients or dispute items on their credit reports, regardless of what they say in marketing materials and customer calls.

The regulations Bryson cited in his lawsuit apply to organizations that "provide services or advice about services to improve a customer's credit record, credit history or credit rating."

The Fort Lauderdale judge decided a reasonable jury could go either way on the question of whether Berges' firms fit that definition.

He also left it to a jury to decide whether the form letters sent to Bryson's creditors constituted legal malpractice.

Bryson paid the firms a total of $660 in four monthly installments starting in April 2014. He is seeking that amount in damages plus punitive damages, said his lawyer Nathan E. DeLadurantey of DeLadurantey Law Office in Milwaukee.

The parties had a mediation session in June with Fort Lauderdale mediator Martin B. Woods, a shareholder at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson.

That session led to a settlement with Shielded Network LLC, another organization allegedly receiving portions of Bryson's payments. DeLadurantey declined to disclose the amount of the settlement.

Berges has no Florida Bar disciplinary history in the past 10 years. Consumer Protection Counsel was one of 13 student debt relief companies subpoenaed in 2014 by New York state's student protection unit as part of an investigation into the companies' advertising and fees.

Originally posted by Celia Ampel on Daily Business Review.

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