Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Mitch McConnell's SCOTUS Case

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a big day ahead tomorrow when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, a case that could result in the death of corporate spending restrictions in federal elections. McConnell, the nation's number one Republican, has been seldom seen during the August health care reform debate (see our new story here), but he's been a relentless foe of campaign finance reform over the years. Represented by the famous First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, McConnell has filed a brief in the case supporting Citizens United, and tomorrow the court will likely discuss a precedent that carries McConnell's name.

In one of his many attempts to derail the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, McConnell sued the FEC in 2002 arguing that the act was a violation of his First Amendment right to take gobs of corporate money to get elected. McConnell, a prolific Republican fundraiser, lost that case by a narrow margin, but the composition of the court has changed significantly since then, giving him much better odds in his current crusade. While the Republican leader might not lead his party to victory against health care reform, his Supreme Court advocacy may soon usher in a new era of corporate dominance of federal elections—a development that could have significant benefits for his party in the long run.

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Coffee Beanery Foes Lose House

Back in March, we ran a story about Deborah Williams and Richard Welshans, a Maryland couple who alleged that they’d been defrauded by the Coffee Beanery, a national coffee franchiser.  They tried to sue to recover some of the more than $1 million they lost after opening a Coffee Beanery cafe, alleging that the company had failed to disclose the fact that most of their franchises failed within three years rather than netted $250,000 in profits, as the company officials had promised. Instead, the couple landed in mandatory arbitration hell. A private arbitrator, hired by Coffee Beanery, ruled against them and ordered them to pay Coffee Beanery more than $100,000, which included the opposing counsels’ lunch tab during the hearing.

The couple fought the decision all the way through the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which earlier this year overturned the arbitrator’s decision, paving the way for Williams and Welshans to sue the Coffee Beanery in Maryland civil court. But Welshans and Wiliams might have had a much happier ending to their story if they’d been able to access the civil justice system from the beginning, and had their complaint heard in a real court of law, with a real judge and a real jury. Instead, the failure of their franchise plus the arbitration and expensive legal battle sent them into bankruptcy. Now, they are about to lose their house. Last week, Deborah wrote to me saying that their lovely waterfront Annapolis home was going into foreclosure and they had 45 days to leave the premises. In an email she writes:

We now have nothing left to lose. We thought that if by a miracle, we should win our appeal we would finally achieve Justice. But even that was not to be. We are the first franchisee in the State of Maryland to be denied the protection of Maryland Law. I'm crying as I write this, because for the first time I realize our backs are broken and there seems to be nothing left for us. We don't know where we will go. Renting will be almost impossible, I still have not been able to find a job, and then there is the bankruptcy. As you can imagine, any landlord would determine us a high risk.

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