Local consumers have a new advocate at the Douglas County District Attorney's Office. A new consumer protection unit in the Douglas County District Attorney's Office has the potential to be an important service for county residents.
The unit, which was launched in July, already has handled 25 complaints. An example cited in Thursday's Journal-World was a situation in which a Lawrence woman was charged a price much higher than what was advertised to have two rooms of carpet cleaned. After being contacted by the DA's consumer unit, the Kansas City company refunded her $300.
The carpet complaint is a great example of a case that perhaps didn't warrant a filing in small claims court but could have represented a significant loss to the local resident. The investigation by the consumer unit probably also will alter the business practices of the carpet cleaning firm and save other local consumers from similar losses.
In addition to handling complaints about charitable solicitations, door-to-door sales, home improvements and other problems, District Attorney Charles Branson said he also wants the new unit to be active in providing information and education to consumers. The office plans to initiate a Community Alert Network that will inform the public about potential scams. The word will be spread through churches, social service agencies, neighborhood associations and other partners, as well as being posted on the DA's Web site, www/dgcoda.com.
Douglas County residents haven't had an active local consumer advocate since the Consumer Affairs Association closed for lack of funding in the early 1990s. Local residents could register complaints with the Kansas Attorney General's office, but consumer actions declined drastically during the administration of Attorney General Phill Kline, whose consumer division focused on a narrow range of larger cases.
Although Paul Morrison, elected to replace Kline on Nov. 7, was critical of Kline's consumer record and is expected to step up consumer enforcement, the Douglas County unit offers local residents a far more convenient and direct way to pursue complaints.
The most visible role of the District Attorney's Office is to work with law enforcement to prosecute criminal cases. That still should be the office's primary focus, but Branson deserves praise for adding a service that could benefit many, many county consumers.