Statement of Janet Varnell, Esq.
Co-chair, National Association of Consumer Advocates
Feb. 7, 2005
My name is Janet Varnell. I am a mother, a wife and a citizen of the great State of Florida. I am also a
consumer advocate with a decade of front-line experience representing everyone from municipal water
authorities to mobile home owners in class actions in both state and federal courts.
At first glance, this legislation appears benign – simply moving class actions to federal courts and applying
stricter rules. In reality, this law will unilaterally disarm individual Americans. Filing a class action in state
court, to be heard by our own state court judges, applying the protections afforded under our own state
laws, is one of the few remaining weapons we have to fight corporate abuse. Moving the overwhelming
majority of class actions to federal court will ultimately result in an impossibly clogged federal court system
with a small group of overworked, under-funded, unwelcoming judges left to resolve problems that states
have handled for over 200 years.
Why is it important for states to have the power to decide these cases? Consider this scenario for a
moment: If you have children, I would assume that, like most parents, you want your morals, your values
and your rules to govern your children. No one has a better understanding of your values and rules than
you, nor do they have a better sense of what your children need. You are the best person to apply and
interpret your values and no one can protect your children better than you.
This law sends your children to be raised by a distant cousin. The federal courts will be told to apply the
law of your state. Perhaps, they can be told in some abstract way what the rules of your house are, but
remember they did not ask for your children; they do not want your children; and they will never love,
protect and serve the best interests of your children the way that you would. Each state is like a parent.
They have the right and responsibility to protect and govern the citizens of their states. It is best this way
because in most circumstances, state courts can best resolve the issues affecting their citizens in keeping
with their own house rules. Political accountability, diversity and a closeness to the people are just a few of
the constructs that will be lost when these cases are left to the whim of the appointed, overworked federal
The best government -- is the government closest to home. A city is the best government for the people of
that city. A county is the best government for the people of that county. And a State, is the best
government for the people of that State. This is a ribbon of common sense that runs through the very fabric
of our system of governing. It is supposed to be a rare and necessary occasion when power is taken from
the state and placed in the federal government.
The type of disputes we are talking about here most often impact individuals in a very real way. For
instance, many of the cases I have handled involved big corporations stealing small amounts of money
from the poor and disadvantaged. So, while the backers of this legislation complain that state court class
actions are a “drain on the economy,” the truth is that just a handful of big corporations have occasionally
experienced the financial hardship they all-too-often inflict on their customers.
In a few minutes, you will hear from some of the living, breathing people who are at the heart of this
struggle. I dare the proponents of this bill to face these people and call their problems frivolous. As you
hear their stories, you will see that these are not the money-grubbing extortionists that have been spoon-
fed to the press by the corporate marketing machine. They are your neighbors, your preachers, your
grandparents. I hope, as you listen, you might even see yourself in their shoes. But, the next time that a
large, faceless global conglomerate rips you off, justice will likely be out of reach. Unless you are ripped-off
and damaged enough to file your own lawsuit, it won’t matter if the company made millions doing it. You
will find it far more difficult to find a lawyer to take the case because there will be fewer lawyers willing to
take on the incredible risk and difficulty involved. If you do find a lawyer, your case will move at a snails
pace. And even if you actually get the opportunity to ask a federal judge to permit a class action, you will
be faced with an unaccountable, disconnected federal judge, with an extraordinarily heavy docket who is
unlikely to certify your case. And you will have no case. You will have no remedy. You will be, a child,
unprotected, and left in the cold.
Contact: Janet Varnell, Esq.
Varnell & Warwick, PA
20 LaGrande Boulevard
The Villages, FL 32159
Jillian Aldebron, Civil Justice Media Coordinator & Counsel