Summary: Thomas James, a litigator and current Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Fraud Bureau of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, opens his interview by discussing his involvement with the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Communities, which assisted families in segregated housing as they sought to relocate to better options. James delves into some of his first experiences after law school, touching on his private practice in the civil rights arena and his introduction to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. In his later work in consumer protection, James details the predatory lending practices of mortgage brokers operating in segregated, predominantly African-American communities. He also describes how residents in these neighborhoods typically lacked access to reliable credit and had little familiarity with complex mortgage products. James discusses the lawsuits he pursued against mortgage brokers and predatory salesmen, such as an action brought against First Alliance Mortgage Corporation, while also detailing his motivation for drafting the High Cost Home Loan Act of 2004. Additionally, James explains his idea to root out deceptive practices at the source by bringing a class action suit against Lehman Brothers for financing subprime lenders, and notes that this idea foundered because of insufficient support from other Attorney Generals. James closes by detailing the accomplishments of his multi-state enforcement team, which on top of the successful suit against First Alliance, included a $500 million settlement in another major case against Household-Beneficial.
Biography: Tom James is the Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Fraud Bureau of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, where he has been a litigator since 1988. He has participated in regional and national multi-state enforcement teams against predatory lending and servicing practices, amongst many other consumer protection matters. As an Assistant Attorney General, Mr. James has drafted commentary, statutes, and regulations in collaboration with legislative staff, not-for-profit organizations, major community banking and state bank associations, and state and federal regulators. He helped draft the Illinois High Cost Home Loan Act of 2004, the Illinois Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Act of 2007, and the Illinois Consumer Installment and Payday Loan Reform Act of 2010. Before becoming an attorney, he worked as a housing counselor for the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities in Chicago. Mr. James was also a member of the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council. He earned his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.