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CFPB lawyers lacked banking law training

1700 G Street, NW D.C. The new location of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, July 11th, 2013
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau approved a $167,000 training program in "consumer law" to agency employees, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch. (Examiner/Graeme Jennings)

When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enrolled a number of its enforcement attorneys last year into a basic, introductory course called "Banking Law Fundamentals," the bureau also hired a trainer for $167,000 to teach its staff about consumer law.

Christina Coll, one of the agency enforcement lawyers, squealed with delight when she was invited to enroll in the course. "This looks like an awesome agenda for a banking world novice like me," she told her litigation boss in an email.

That email and other internal CFPB documents were obtained recently by Judicial Watch, a non-profit government watchdog group, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The bureau was created by Congress in 2011 to enforce federal consumer protection laws and regulations in the financial industry. Underscoring its unique status, CFPB is part of the Federal Reserve System, which exempts the bureau from virtually all congressional and executive branch oversight, including its budget.

The attorneys who participated in the course are being paid up to $170,000.

The course was offered by George Washington University Law School, which described it as a "program designed to familiarize participants with the basics of banking law." The school was paid $750 for each CFPB attorney attending the two-and-a-half day program.

No full-time law school professor taught the course. It was instead led by part-time instructors, according to a university spokesperson.

Most of the CFPB attorneys who took the course had little experience in banking law. The nation's capital has the second highest concentration of lawyers in the country. The D.C. Bar's membership alone exceeds 100,000 lawyers.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton wondered why CFPB hired attorneys who lacked experience and expertise in areas of the law that are critical to the bureau's mission.

"If you're hiring folks for this type of agency, you would assume that kind of education has been already undertaken, that's the sort of qualification they already have when hired," he said.

The CFPB also approved a $167,000 training program in "consumer law" to agency employees, according to the documents obtained by Judicial Watch.

David Medine was hired by the bureau at a rate of $250,891 per year, but actually worked for only eight months, from October 2012 until May of this year.

Medine promised in his contract with the bureau to "explain the law, particularly the Fair Credit Reporting Act, among other federal consumer laws."

Surprisingly, CFPB's top enforcement chief also appears to have little direct experience in banking law.

Kent Markus, the agency's enforcement director, is an Ohio lawyer with close ties to the state's Democratic establishment. His boss is CFPB director Richard Cordray, who served as Ohio's attorney general.

Markus previously worked as chief legal counsel for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and for the state's Attorney General, Lee Fisher. He also served as a deputy chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

In 2000, President Clinton nominated Markus to a federal judgeship for the Sixth Circuit Court, but the appointment failed when the Republican-led Senate refused to confirm him. The biggest objections against Marcus were that he had never tried a case and had never served as a judge at any level.

Six of Markus' enforcement division attorneys were enrolled in the GWU banking course.

Gregory Lisa worked in the Justice Department's criminal and civil rights division, but his public record does not cite clear experience in banking law. Lisa commands an annual salary of $170,000.

Jeffrey M. Ernst is a general litigation attorney who specialized in health care fraud. He clerked for Federal Judge Bruce Kauffman. Ernst was exposed to securities fraud as a para-legal at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Ernst's salary is $161,000.

Clayton Coon, a University of Chicago Law School graduate, practiced law in California. Spoke.com, a jobs website describes one of Coon's specialty as "commercial and banking law." He receives $147,000, one of the top salaries within the federal government.

Ethan Levisohn, a Harvard Law School graduate was a trial lawyer who served in the public integrity division at the Justice Department. He receives $134,000.

Elizabeth S. Boison was a law clerk at a Washington law firm of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. She receives $123,000.

Christina Coll, who called herself a "novice," served as a public defender lawyer after graduation from Berkeley (Calif.) School of Law. She earns $117,000.

A CFPB spokesperson told the Washington Examiner the attorneys took the course to obtain continuing education credits and "this class was a way for them to complete some of the required credits."