Lawyer makes dirty debt collectors pay

The Avenger: Pete Barry goes after those "who live off the misery of others"

"The whole idea is that the industry would be taking care of its own," she says enthusiastically. One area where reform could be useful, Andersen muses, is the realm of high-dollar actual damages cases. "Maybe you eliminate the concept of actual damages," she says. "Those cases are few and far between."

Making it happen will require a leader in Congress willing to carry the industry's banner. While she is careful to avoid saying he's on board, Andersen does have a champion in mind: Rep. Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

"If there's anyone on Capitol Hill who can help us find a meaningful solution, he is the one." Andersen gushes. "He's an awesome thinker."

Barry's boot camps have trained more than 200 lawyers. "I'd like to be able to do them from my grave," he says.
Nick Vlcek
Barry's boot camps have trained more than 200 lawyers. "I'd like to be able to do them from my grave," he says.


For more, see amazing reproductions of vintage debt collection postcards and see our photo essay slideshow.

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IT'S BEEN A LONG DAY for Barry. Slumped on his couch, he looks like an arm-weary boxer in the late rounds. When told of the collection industry's plans, he is unsettlingly still, like the hot, sticky quiet that precedes a spectacular weather event.

Then he explodes: "That is the most preposterous thing I've ever heard!" he says, almost at a loss for words. "The notion that a sector of this economy that creates more consumer complaints than any other business sector in the country thinks that it can self-regulate and thinks that it should shut the courthouse doors for all consumers? To privatize the court system? It's the most preposterous, far-fetched, stupid idea I've ever heard in my life!"

Still hunched on his couch, Barry is speaking—shouting, really—as if he were standing before an angry mob itching for bloody revenge.

"The collection industry is now seeking to rewrite the constitution? To strip us of our right to have a case or controversy? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! But it's totally consistent with the lawlessness with which this industry rules itself. They think they're above the law. They think they've got the solution for you and me: They're going to set up a private court system that will allow them to remove from the public eye their misconduct."

But if the brain trust at ACA International thinks Barry is going to sit quietly by as they plot to roll back three decades of legal protections for debtors, they've got another think coming.

"Good luck," he says with disgust, taking a hearty swig of Diet Coke to wash the taste out of his mouth. "Over my dead body. I'll move to Washington, D.C., and I'll meet them there."

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