The New Colossus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

But what of the tired and poor of our own shores?

WASHINGTON — With a client list that reads like a roster of Fortune 500 firms, a little-known company with an odd name, the Talx Corporation, has come to dominate a thriving industry: helping employers process — and fight — unemployment claims.

Talx, which emerged from obscurity over the last eight years, says it handles more than 30 percent of the nation’s requests for jobless benefits. Pledging to save employers money in part by contesting claims, Talx helps them decide which applications to resist and how to mount effective appeals.

The work has made Talx a boom business in a bust economy, but critics say the company has undermined a crucial safety net. Officials in a number of states have called Talx a chronic source of error and delay. Advocates for the unemployed say the company seeks to keep jobless workers from collecting benefits.

“Talx often files appeals regardless of merits,” said Jonathan P. Baird, a lawyer at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. “It’s sort of a war of attrition. If you appeal a certain percentage of cases, there are going to be those workers who give up.”

Like Gerald Grenier:

Advocates for the unemployed cite cases like that of Gerald Grenier, 47, who spent four years as a night janitor at a New Hampshire Wal-Mart and was fired for pocketing several dollars in coins from a vending machine. Mr. Grenier, who is mentally disabled, told Wal-Mart he forgot to turn in the change. Talx, representing Wal-Mart, accused him of misconduct and fought his unemployment claim.

After Mr. Grenier waited three months for a hearing, Wal-Mart did not appear. A Talx agent joined by phone, then seemingly hung up as Mr. Grenier testified. The hearing officer redialed and left an unanswered message on the agent’s voice mail. The officer called Mr. Grenier “completely credible” and granted him benefits.

Talx appealed, claiming that the officer had denied the agent’s request to let Wal-Mart testify by phone. (A recording of the hearing contains no such request.) Mr. Grenier won the appeal, but by then he had lost his apartment and moved in with his sister.

Mentally-disabled, but still working the night shift to pay his way, just so some morally-disabled companies can fire him and deny him his due.

I can’t take these cases. No private lawyer can. The potential client has no way to even pay the costs, much less an attorney’s fee.

In a perfect world, the government would intervene to stop major corporations from trampling on the rights of the powerless. 

Sometimes they do, but it depends on the people who represent the government:

[Ohio Attorney General Richard] Cordray is instead focused on using his authority to protect consumers from predatory lending and fraud. He has organized numerous legal challenges of banks and lenders, recently held a summit dedicated to combating consumer fraud that included 300 Ohio consumer advocates, and has been working with other state AGs and the Obama administration to "report trends in fraud and illegal conduct to Treasury to help develop a coordinated and effective national response" and argue in favor of effective financial reform.

A dozen other state AGs are too busy filing lawsuits against health care reform — suits that virtually no one believes will succeed — to care about a couple hundred thousand unemployed citizens being held down in poverty by a former employer too cheap to pay its dues and a frivolous-objection-filing machine.

Even AGs who do care don’t have the resources to prosecute every company that systematically cheats its employees, former employees, and consumers. There’s simply too much cheating out there.

Same goes for public interest / legal aid firms. They do great work, but even the ones in major cities labor under "shoestring budgets" and the beneficence of big firms with whom they partner, big firms which represent those same companies

Who, then, could take up the banner?

Not law school clinics, not anymore:

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Law school students nationwide are facing growing attacks in the courts and legislatures as legal clinics at the schools increasingly take on powerful interests that few other nonprofit groups have the resources to challenge.


Law clinics at other universities — from New Jersey to Michigan to Louisiana — are facing similar challenges. And legal experts say the attacks jeopardize the work of the clinics, which not only train students with hands-on courtroom experience at more than 200 law schools but also have taken on more cases against companies and government agencies in recent years.

“We’re seeing a very strong pushback from deep-pocket interests, and that pushback is creating a chilling effect on many clinics,” said Robert R. Kuehn, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, citing a recent survey he conducted that found that more than a third of faculty members at legal clinics expressed fears about university or state reaction to their casework and that a sixth said they had turned down unpopular clients because of these concerns.

A bill is pending in Louisiana that would "forbid law students at clinics that receive any public money from suing government agencies, companies or individuals for damages unless exempted by the Legislature." The bill is "a response to a suit brought by the Tulane Law School clinic on behalf of an environmental group against federal and state environmental regulators, seeking greater enforcement of air quality standards in the Baton Rouge area."

That’s right: we passed these laws, but we don’t want anyone out there actually enforcing them.

Just like the unemployment compensation: it’s on the books, but heaven forbid you get any of it.

The government can fix these problems in a blink. Leave the clinics alone. Provide more funding to public interest law firms. Make unemployment compensation objections subject to qui tam laws with treble damages for violations, a per-violation fine, and an award of attorney’s fees.

If we’re not going to have enough attorneys general to enforce the laws on the books, then we need to make a market for private ones.