All in the family

The Madison County Record Oct. 28, 2007, 9:30am

How much suffering did Marilyn Margulis endure after an unwanted message was left on her home answering machine?

Her lawyers from the Lakin Firm in Wood River aren't saying exactly. But in the class action lawsuit they filed against mortgage broker Amerifirst in St. Clair County last week, they assured the court that damages due Ms. Margulis are "less than $75,000."

That's for the annoyance of having to take a second to press delete. If we only had reason to believe Margulis was really, truly annoyed by the phone call in the first place.

You see, the last time Marilyn Margulis sued a telemarketer for calling her at home, she didn't even answer the phone. Her husband did. It was an automated four-question survey. He didn't just hang up. He took it. He pressed buttons and participated. He rejoiced.

He's Max Margulis, a self-described "junk fax lawyer" who conveniently makes a living suing businesses for supposed violations of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which has regulated telemarketing since 1991. He even runs a web site-- through which he seeks to recruit adventurous plaintiffs who don't share his last name.

Alas for Max, the errant survey call, made by a Kansas City telemarketer, was money in the bank.

Team Margulis demanded $4,500 in compensation for their troubles. After a protracted court battle, including a trip to the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals, a district court awarded them $500.

This time around, the stakes are considerably higher. The Lakin firm, teaming with two Chicago outfits dedicated to similar scheming, don't play for peanuts. They're hunting bigger game, aiming to tag Amerifirst with a multi-million dollar verdict, so as to squeeze out a juicy contingency fee for themselves.

And if they were to be successful? Well, the lawyers would have to notify each and every aggrieved member of the class with an unsolicited phone call of their own.

That's rich.

Telemarketing calls may be irritating, but they're nothing when compared to telemarketing lawyers.

A minor nuisance deserves a minor remedy, not a multi-millon dollar escalation. Ms. Margulis should take her trifle to small claims court, and stop wasting this court's valuable time.

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