Attorney Stays on Late Fee Warpath


A handful of plantiffs and their new attorney are appealing
a settlement proposed by Tele-Communications Inc. for Washington state consumers that will
lower late fees to $3.

Consumers there attempted a class-action suit alleging the
fees were excessive, but TCI prevailed on a summary judgment motion in a Washington state
court. However, the operator approached regulators with a proposal to cut existing fees of
about $5, to $3.

However, a few of the plaintiffs were contacted by Philip
Friedman, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has successfully sued TCI in his hometown and
Baltimore. The plaintiffs and Friedman will appeal the settlement to the Washington State
Court of Appeals as soon as the lower court enters the settlement order officially into
the record.

Friedman said the settlement is insufficient because it
does not require TCI to return the "excess funds it collected from the consumers of
Washington state." The attorney estimates TCI collected $35 million more than it cost
to actually process overdue bills.

Friedman continues his war against late fees (and primarily
TCI as an offender) across the country. Suits he has pursued have qualified as class
actions in Indiana and Colorado and he awaits a ruling on a summary judgment request in
King County, Ill., against Multimedia Cablevision Corp. A case against TCI in Illinois
should start in October.

Despite his high-profile victories, Friedman and his
plaintiffs are still waiting for court-ordered refunds and fees, he said. Final judgment
has not been entered in the Washington, D.C., case and attorneys are awaiting a briefing
schedule for the appeal of the Baltimore ruling.

"It's a long battle, but ultimately we're
going to win them all ... If I have to take it state by state, trial by trial, we'll
do it," Friedman said.

Even operators in state with late-fee laws on the books are
not safe. Friedman said he advised drafters of a recent, failed, cable reregulation bill
in California, contributing to the language that would have cut late fees to under $2. The
bill failed in committee in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Further, the attorney is on the legal attack in California
against TCI for late fees it charged before operators passed a law two years ago setting
late fees statewide at $4.75.