Confessions of a Legal Hitman

May 20, 2009

I am almost through the book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins.  This is an amazing read, and some of what he discusses reminded me of an email I sent back in 2002 when I was in law school.  As part of my summer clerkship, I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. to hear a partner from Arent Fox speak about doing pro bono legal work.  While I agreed with much of what he said, I found his role at a corporate law firm in conflict with many of the points that he made over the course of his talk.  While reading this book, my original email to Mr. Leval seemed even more relevant to the role of corporations and their attorneys in the subversion of the rest of the world.  For what it is worth, here it is:

From: Chris [mailto:ctn2d@cms.mail.virginia.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 2:59 PM
To: levalg@arentfox.com
Subject:

Dear Mr. Leval:

I first wanted to say that I appreciated your speech yesterday
evening at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am glad that we had the
opportunity as young lawyers-to-be to be reminded of the complexity
of life and the need to remain firmly rooted in those values that
served to found the laws of this land.

As a rising third-year law student, I have been troubled by many of
the issues raised by your talk last evening. I am faced with the
prospect of joining the majority of my classmates as we head off to
become members of diverse corporate law firms practicing a wide range
of general corporate counsel. The difficulty, as I see it, is that
the
circumstances surrounding corporate practice have not changed
significantly in the half-century that has elapsed since the
Holocaust. Serving as counsel to IBM, for example, seems to me to be
not that far from serving as their counsel during the late 1930’s and
early 1940’s when the corporation supplied Nazi Germany with tools of
destruction.

There is a new form of eugenics and genocide at work in contemporary
society and legal culture. American society no longer faces “horned
devils,” complete with identifying uniforms, nationalistic speeches,
and the avowed intent to destroy other human beings. Today, rather,
we face cloaked evils that progress, as you hinted, under the guise
of lawful acts and just motivations.

I struggle with the idea of representing GE who has helped
contaminate the rivers and bloodstreams not only of those creatures
in nature, but also of our human bodies, with their PCB dumping. I
cannot reconcile the idea of counseling Monsanto who completely
contaminated small towns, dumping chemicals that disrupt the bodies
natural balances, and that stood by their pesticides, including DDT,
when these chemicals were known to be causing cancer and other health
problems. I can not justify representing a company like NIKE that
refuses to offer a remotely livable wage, instead running their
operations in ways that parallel the early work camps of Nazi Germany.

I appreciate and I respect the challenge that you made to me and to
the rest of the group of young, aspiring attorneys in D.C. last
night. However, I fear that we have been lulled into complacency by
the face of the new evils. Today we hide from truths behind the cover
of honor codes, professional responsibility, and business ethics. I
fear that we will spend our days working for GE, Monsanto, Phillip
Morris, or Anheuser-Busch, and spend our nights looking for the “bad
guy” decked out with horns and a cape.

Evil has learned from its failures. As you pointed out last evening,
it is people like us that negotiated the deals, that drafted the
contracts, that supplied the Nazi effort, but I can’t believe that on
the whole, those people were as blind as now, in retrospect, they
seem. I am one of them. And the more that we continue to deny
evil’s new presence, the closer it gets to victory with its hidden,
slow, war of attrition.

I am curious what your take is on these thoughts, as I respect the
efforts you are making with your pro-bono work. Any advice or
insights that you have would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Chris Nidel

Hertz Car Rental Ripoff

February 21, 2009

Welcome to my blog.  It just so happens that I am starting my blog within a day or two of when I received notice that Hertz was attempting to take my money without my permission and frankly for something that has no factual basis, a move I refer to as “robbing” me.

The story starts where you think it would, I rented a car when a group of us went out to Salt Lake City to snowboard and ski.  I reserved a rental car through my Hertz Gold membership, thinking I would save myself inconvenience and expense at the airport.  The reservation, in relevant part stated:

Rate is guaranteed.  Taxes, fees and extras, if not included in the Rate, are subject to change.  
Base Amount:
Weekend Days: 3 Weekend days  at 21.36 USD
UNLIMITEDFREE MILES
INCLUSIVE ITEMS:
Rate Code: MCLE
Total Approx. Charges: 134.93

It is important to note that this charge include a $39 fee for a ski rack, which ultimately I decided we did not need.  We picked up the car at the SLC Airport and drove to pick up our rentals and out to Park City.  The distance from the airport to Park City is 40 miles or so per Google maps.  We used the car daily to go out for food, perhaps logging 20-30 additional miles on the car.  After our three days on the mountain, we drove the car back early in the morning for a 6:00 am return flight.  On the way, we stopped for gas and filled the tank at a station that is, again, per Google maps, roughly one mile from the airport.  

At 4:45 in the morning there was no one checking in cars for Hertz, and so we did the express dropoff, leaving the car and keys with Hertz.  Everything seemed smooth at that point.  However, I just now received an “express return receipt” for my rental, with a total charge to my credit card of $201.29.  (Note:  this is less the ~$40 for the ski rack that I did not need and had removed from my charges).  This total is basically $100 more than I was quoted, fully twice the amount of my rental (the base rental was $22.49/day for 3 days, so even more when you ignore the additional fees and taxes).  In any event, the only charge that stood out is the $91.20 fee for “fuel & svc.”  Remember, I returned the car after driving a mile from the gas station where I filled the tank.

After fuming about the additional charge, I finally figured out what the “basis” for this charge was:

 

  • First, they calculated that I drove 300 miles (a fact that simply can not be true, and come on, such a nice, round number?)
  • Next, they assume gas is worth $6.99 per gallon (uh, not even close)
  • Then they apparently figure out that at $6.99 per gallon, the car I drove cost roughly $0.304 per mile in fuel (I checked the mileage per EPA of the vehicle I rented, 26 mpg, which even at the $6.99 is significantly less than $0.304 per mile)
  • Ignore the fact that I returned the car with a full fuel tank
  • And ultimately charge me for “fuel & svc” by multiplying the total (they say) I drove by the bogus fuel charge per mile to a total charge of $91.20.
  • Bingo.

 

Here it is:

 

The Receipt

The Receipt

 

 

 

Now, this really upsets me.  It is not simply that they appear to have lied about four things (the miles I drove, the cost of gas, the efficiency of the car, and the fact that I returned it without adding gas), but I am clearly not the first one that has had this happen.  Ex. 1 Ex. 2.  Furthermore, I checked my receipt; how many people simply do not bother to check.  And, of those that do check, how many care enough to complain or write about it on the internet?  From what I see, this appears to be a standard practice and is no more legitimate than being held up at the ATM machine after just pulling out $91 in cash. Well, no, it is actually worse; at least when you are held up you know you are being ripped off, most people probably never notice when this happens.

The company, no doubt, will claim that this is not a standard practice, and I surely hope, promptly refund my money.