Collection Firm Faces Class-Action

Section: REGION
Page: B2
Author: Kevin Blocker Staff writer

A federal judge in Seattle has given class-action status to a lawsuit filed against a Spokane-based collection company.

The action means as many as 140,000 people around the state could be eligible for refunds from the company if it is found guilty of wrongdoing.
The lawsuit accuses the company of charging excess fees - a violation of state and federal law - to people who didn't pay their parking tickets.

Plaintiffs' attorney Harish Bharti said people all over the state have been unfairly billed collection fees by the company. He didn't know how many are from the Spokane area.

The lawsuit says Ticket Track serves as the collection agent for parking lot companies that own or operate 11 parking lots in the Seattle area.

People who did not pay their parking tickets were contacted by Ticket Track and asked to pay the amount of the original tickets plus a $30 collection fee, the lawsuit said.

Bharti said as many as 140,000 people were asked to pay the collection fee.

``It is an illegal charge the defendants are well aware of,'' Bharti said Wednesday. ``Anybody in this business engaged in this kind of behavior should be shut down entirely.''

Bharti recently represented four Seattle plaintiffs in a class-action suit that resulted in Diamond Parking agreeing to pay $2 million to people who were subjected to additional collection fees.

The president and owner of Ticket Track denied the allegations against his company, saying it has never charged add-on collection fees.

``As Mr. Bharti is well aware, the facts in this case are in no way similar to the facts in the Diamond case,'' Craig Bagdon said. ``Ticket Track has never added collection charges to the debts referred to it.''

Bagdon went on to criticize Bharti for ``trying this case in the press. Ticket Track will vigorously defend itself against these spurious claims in a court of law,'' he said.

Diamond Parking and Drico Recovery Services, a collection agency, were sued on behalf of more than 50,000 residents statewide who were charged a collection fee on top of outstanding parking tickets.

Diamond and Drico were found to have tacked on 57,000 additional parking fines from Oct. 23, 1997, to May 31, 2002, according to the lawsuit.

The settlement was reached in October, and attorneys sent notices to those who paid the collection fees. The final agreement called for $1.8million to be refunded to consumers and $330,000 in attorneys fees.

Members of the class-action suit against Diamond must submit claims by April.

Refunds in the Diamond case are expected to be issued in July. For more information, contact Bharti's office at (206) 706-6400 or