Tom Loeser has a thing for doing what he loves. He’s one of those enviable individuals who’s run a surf shop in Maui and been a ski and snowboard instructor in Sun Valley.
So, when it was time for him to turn the page on his successful stint as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and head to private practice, you just know he was going to seek his own path.
No big defense firm for him. Loeser knew he would only find continued fulfillment in the law by taking on those big firms on behalf of fraud victims. In pursuit of that mission, he landed at one of the best firms imaginable with Hagens Berman. The Seattle-based partner was something of a late-comer to the profession, having also been an MBA financial analyst before attending Duke Law. Consumers are better off for his less-travelled path to the tune of billions of dollars that the class-action cases he has worked on have returned to defrauded victims.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers your practice at Hagens Berman?
Tom Loeser: My practice is focused on protecting individuals from corporate fraud and abuse. When corporations cheat consumers, or cheat the government, we go toe-to-toe against the largest and richest corporations, and the mega-defense firms that they hire, to give individual consumers their day in court and the opportunity to hold the corporations accountable for their malfeasance and misdeeds.
LD: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?
TL: Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles, where I prosecuted federal crimes. It was the only law job I wanted, and the job I went to law school to get. After nearly five years, financial and personal considerations required me to move to the private sector, but I was not willing to leave behind the justice and prosecutorial bent of being an AUSA. A plaintiffs’ class action and consumer protection practice seemed the natural fit because I was able to continue to prosecute large, important cases on behalf of the victims of the illegal and unscrupulous acts of corporations and individuals who too often escape accountability.
It is immensely satisfying to stand up to the mega-corporations and their Big Law attorneys and make these corporations do right by their customers and consumers.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?
TL: My career separates naturally between my time as a federal prosecutor, and the last 13 years at Hagens Berman, which I have spent fighting for consumers who have been defrauded by mega-corporations. In the latter, the most interesting matter has been the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” cases. We filed the first civil action in the United States following the revelation that VW had, for at least six years, defrauded U.S. regulators, dealers and consumers into believing their diesel-powered cars were clean and green, when in truth and fact they pumped up to 40 times the legal limit of dangerous NOx pollutants into the air. The consumer case, and our case on behalf of VW’s exclusive dealers (who were also defrauded by VW), resulted in over $10B of payments to consumers and dealers and took the vast majority of these heavily polluting cars off the road for good.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice?
TL: Hardly a week goes by without the revelation that a large, hitherto trusted corporation has, in fact, abused that trust and taken advantage of individual consumers. Over the last decade, government has shied away from returning losses to defrauded consumers, and the Chamber of Commerce and its allies have pushed for business-favoring ADR, like arbitration, with class-action waivers. This has made the role of the plaintiffs’ class action attorney even more important. Increasingly, we are the last, best chance of individuals and consumers to hold corporations to the high – or at least fair – standards that they claim to possess.
LD: Can you describe a recent matter that you’ve handled?
TL: Recently, we sued a major mortgage loan servicer for its purposeful failure to pay interest (as required by California law) on the escrow accounts it required its customers to fund in conjunction with their mortgages. The loan servicer insisted that it was exempt from California law, even though the Ninth Circuit had directly rejected the loan servicer’s preemption argument, and other California servicers were paying the interest as required. After more than two years of hard-fought litigation, the District Court entered summary judgment on liability and recently summary judgment on damages against the loan servicer, making clear that the defendant could not simply choose not to follow California law and keep the interest it owed as profits. Pending execution of the judgment, and the resolution of possible appeals, the case will return to consumers likely over $10M in interest payments that have been wrongfully withheld.
LD: What were some of the challenges of the case?
TL: The overarching challenge in this case was, as is often true, a very wealthy corporation fixated on profits and its legion of corporate defense attorneys tasked with making prosecution of the case very time consuming and very expensive. One of the great joys of working at a national class-action powerhouse like Hagens Berman is that we have the resources to stay in the fight, as long as it takes to make sure that consumers get their day in court. Any neutral observer in this case, having seen the directly on point and binding precedent obviating the only defense, could have predicted the outcome. But the loan servicer would not, and still has not changed its unlawful practice. We will fight on, until it does.
LD: What do you expect the impact to be?
TL: Barring an unforeseen reversal in the appellate courts, the result of this case will be to end the unfair practice of loan servicers flouting state law that requires the payment of at least two percent interest on funds held in escrow in connection with California mortgages. Californians will receive direct payments of the hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars of interest that they are owed, and going forward the loan servicer will be required to make the payments California law requires.
The lesson here, and in virtually all of our cases, is that many corporations, which are incentivized to maximize profits for their stakeholders, will not naturally do what is right for consumers, even if the right choice appears plain and irrefutable.
LD: Did any experience from your undergraduate work push you towards a career in the law? If not, what did?
TL: Interestingly, my undergraduate degree was in Physics, with a minor in Italian. I was on a very different trajectory then. While my hard science background has proved useful in many highly technical cases that I have pursued – like criminal hacking cases as an AUSA and the VW Dieselgate litigation, for example – law was not something I contemplated in college or for many years thereafter.
There was an eight-year span between undergraduate graduation and starting law school. In that time, I ran a surf shop in Hawaii, was a professional snow-sports instructor, completed an MBA at a top business school, and worked in finance at Microsoft and the Hewlett-Packard Company. At the time that I was working in finance, my brother was working in the Civil Rights Division at DOJ, suing states and municipalities for wrongful discrimination. What he was doing just seemed much more interesting and fulfilling, so I decided to take the LSAT and apply to law schools. When I was admitted to Duke, the choice became easy; I left my finance career and set out to be a federal criminal prosecutor. I was very fortunate to obtain that goal six years later.
LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
TL: My father knew exactly what he wanted to do for a living when he was 18, then made it happen, and stayed in that job until he retired. He was a professor at the University of Washington Medical School and turned down legion offers to enter private practice to instead teach aspiring young doctors. My path was different, but the theme was the same: Do what makes you happy. I had no idea what I wanted to do for longer than a turn of the seasons until age 30, but I learned from my father that doing what you love is far more important than doing what pays the most. For me this lesson meant a couple years coaching ski racing, then a couple of years running a surf shop on Maui, then a couple years teaching skiing and snowboarding in Sun Valley, then a stint as an MBA financial analyst. These were all jobs I enjoyed at the time, but none of them captured me for the long term.
Seeing the work my brother was doing in the Civil Rights Division changed that. It was hard, but interesting work, and it made a difference for the thousands of folks who had been unfairly treated by states and municipalities. This instilled the drive for me to be a federal prosecutor. My time as an AUSA has driven my entire career since. Many AUSAs, when financial or other considerations demand a move to the private sector, naturally swing to the defense of individuals or corporations like those they had been prosecuting. But this was not in my DNA. So I sought out a role where I could continue to work on behalf of individuals who had been defrauded, cheated or treated unfairly.
LD: Can you share a lawyer whom you admire, and why? Are there any that have really had a big impact on your career?
TL: There have been many great lawyers I have met through the years and admire, but a few certainly stand out. Steve Berman has championed my career as a class-action lawyer and his mentorship has been instrumental in my success. Our named partner, Tony Shapiro, who sadly and all too early passed away, was an unflinching ally whose sage advice averted many missteps.
Going back to the start of my career, Beverly Reid-O’Connell and John Rayburn stand out. Judge O’Connell was my first deputy on rookie row at the U.S. Attorneys’ office. Beyond the mere mechanics of prosecuting criminal cases, in which she was truly gifted, Bev taught us young (in my case young-ish) AUSAs what prosecutorial discretion meant, and how it should be used to ensure that a prosecution and justice remained hand in glove. John Rayburn was likely the largest influencer of my legal career. John was the Chief of the Riverside Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where I was first posted after rookie row. John was the perfect federal prosecutor. He was an astounding trial lawyer, a great teacher, a humble yet effective manager and problem solver, a devoted husband and father, and a true friend. Sadly, John passed away at a young age, but those of us who had the privilege of working with him can strive to carry on his excellence, nobility, humility and grace.
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is more memorable for certain reasons?
TL: One of my favorite episodes as a prosecutor was a nearly eight-week organized crime/drug trafficking trial that I co-tried with Chris Brunwin, one of the most decorated career federal prosecutors in Los Angeles. The case involved a precursor chemical gang that was the subject of a long-term DEA investigation and sting operation. There were literally dozens upon dozens of video-recorded transactions and wiretap conversations that clearly laid out the roles of the various defendants and the scope and reach of their criminality, including a foiled plot to kill an informant and his family. Yet, after weeks of putting this evidence before the jury, one of the principal defendants then took the stand in his defense and proclaimed, “I am not a criminal, I am just a pastry chef.” Needless to say, the “pastry-chef” defense became a staple of conversation in the office and every AUSA had to make sure they had a ready response for it, when it reared its head again.
LD: How would you say your practice has changed since earlier in your career?
TL: In the early part of my career, I prosecuted criminal cases against bad people who cheated and hurt others, and put them in jail. Now I still prosecute cases against bad people who cheat and hurt people, only now through civil cases, I make them pay back the money. Sometimes, I think this bothers them even more than going to jail.
LD: What’s next for you or your practice?
TL: After 25 years in law, and 13 years in the plaintiffs’ class action bar, I am starting 2021 by taking a much-needed break. I am on leave from HB to spend time with family, while my two sons are still at home and I am still able to keep up with them on skis, bikes and surfboards. I am not sure what will come next, perhaps even a return to criminal prosecution, the job I always wanted and never thought I would leave.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
TL: I play hard. Perhaps spawned from my ill-spent youth as a snow, surf and wind athlete, it is difficult for me to even contemplate something like a round of golf. Instead, I am snowboarding or skiing, surfing, surf-foiling or kite-foiling, or on long runs or bike rides. Fortunately, I get to do these things with my family, an athletic and adventurous bunch for sure.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
TL: That’s easy. Skiing or surfing, depending on the time of year, and latitude I am in.
About the author: John Ryan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a co-founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Lawdragon Inc., where he oversees all web and magazine content and provides regular coverage of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. When he’s not at GTMO, John is based in Brooklyn. He has covered complex legal issues for 20 years and has won multiple awards for his journalism, including a New York Press Club Award in Journalism for his coverage of the Sept. 11 case. View our staff page.