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N4T Investigators: Legal loss? - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Legal loss?

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Tucson - Noreen Matz is concerned, and says southern Arizona residents who are victims of consumer fraud should be,too.

Matz ran the attorney general's Tucson Consumer Fraud Litigation Unit for 23 years before retiring in 2014. The News 4 Tucson Investigators have learned that Attorney General Mark Brnovich is reorganizing the office. No lawyers, paralegals or legal assistants will be working in the Tucson Consumer Litigation unit as of the end of this month. 

"People from the Tucson area could come in and file complaints in person," Matz said. "They could meet with a legal assistant, in person. And that's not going to happen anymore. I think it sends a message to southern Arizona consumers, and maybe even to the whole state, that it's not that important for there to be the face to face contact and the day to day activity to help consumers."

The unit, located on W. Congress St. downtown, once had five attorneys and was highly regarded nationally. It was still effective recently with one attorney, two paralegals and a legal secretary. The attorney already left and the rest will be gone soon.

Over the years, the unit shut down, fined or secured settlements with countless businesses big and small. It was part of a $105 million settlement with Big Pharma's Glaxo Smith Kline for alleged unlawful marketing, with Arizona's portion of the settlement being $3.1 million.

Attorney Vince Rabago worked in the Tucson consumer unit from 2005 to 2010. He said, "Once fraudsters find out that there is no consumer litigation unit here, it may become open season." Adds Matz, "I'm heartbroken. I'm discouraged for consumers, because we did so many statewide and nationwide cases out of the Tucson office." Matz said the office once had five attorneys, including herself, all with heavy caseloads. 

Shortly after AG Brnovich was elected, he told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "We're going to be much more aggressive when it comes to protecting the rights of victims."

The AG's spokesperson, Mia Garcia, said in a statement, "Our Tucson office is open and ready to take consumers complaints. We have attorneys working out of our main [Phoenix] office dedicated to aggressively pursuing southern Arizona consumer enforcement. Frankly, we hope the re-organization will result in more consumer fraud investigations launched out of southern Arizona."  

But Rabago and Matz don't think that will happen. Matz says attorneys and other legal staffers are needed here. "The investigations we that we were able to do, just by driving around Tucson, I don't know what will happen to those."

The AG's spokesperson wrote in an email that there will be three employees in the Tucson consumer litigation unit: a clerk typist, an administrative assistant and a consumer investigator who is not an attorney). The spokesperson said two full time legal assistants in Tucson declined an opportunity to relocate to Phoenix. Vince Rabago says even they relocated,southern Arizona consumers would not be well-served. 

"Those sorts of cases are just not going to happen when you are 120 miles away and you're just reviewing online complaints that people file, he said.

The former unit members told us they hope the attorney general reverses his decision on reorganizing the unit. We certainly will let you know if he does.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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