Georgetown Law Professor Tapped to Lead FTC's Consumer Protection Division

By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday named Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck as director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Vladeck is co-director of Georgetown Law Center's Institute for Public Representation, a program for civil liberties, open government and regulatory litigation. Previously, he spent nearly 30 years with the Public Citizen Litigation Group. As that group's director, he argued a number of First Amendment and civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, and more than 60 cases before the federal courts of appeal and state courts of last resort, the FTC said.

The appointment comes a month after several public interest and consumer advocacy groups asked FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to quickly fill the post, which has been called the commission's most powerful consumer protection role. The groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Consumers Union, said the agency's oversight of a broad range of issues, from marketing practices to identity theft protection, will have significant impact as consumers increasingly rely on technology and digital communication. The new chief, they said, should have a "track record as a genuine champion of consumer rights."

A former basketball player for New York University, the 57-year-old Vladeck is the son of a civil rights lawyer and a labor lawyer. His first priority at the agency, he said, will be dealing with the rise of consumer financial fraud as a result of the economic downturn. The FTC last week announced a task force to help repair consumer credit and prevent questionable lending practices.

The agency has "an enormously broad jurisdictional base," Vladeck said yesterday after returning from giving oral arguments in a case being tried in Richmond. "My challenge is going to be to keep full throttle on all the issues that we're going to have to work on," including online behavioral-targeted advertising and fraud related to the health-care industry.

"I think Vladeck's appointment should bring fear into corporate boardrooms across the country," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, who also pushed Leibowitz to fill the job promptly. "He knows how to use the courts to go after significant cases and shake up industries."

Some public interest groups criticized the FTC under the Bush administration for not taking strong enough action to protect consumers against such things as rising cable bills, predatory mortgage-lending practices and increasing credit card fees.

Lydia Parnes, who was consumer protection chief for four years, recently left the agency to join the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Her deputy, Eileen Harrington, has been serving as acting director.

For the past several years, the agency has largely urged industries to proactively take steps to protect consumers to avoid government regulations, Chester said.

"But I think there's a powerful new cop on the consumer beat," he said.

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