Varnell named consumer protection lawyer of the year
Janet Varnell of Lady Lake is the recipient of the 2019 Consumer Protection Lawyer of the Year Award given by The Florida Bar’s Consumer Protection Law Committee.
The award was presented to Varnell November 1 in Orlando by Nikki Fried, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Varnell was nominated by Jim Kowalski, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc. A winner of the award in 2011, Kowalski was joined in his nomination by six other past recipients.
“Advocating for consumers and victims in David and Goliath cases is at the core of the work Varnell has done for the last 19 years,” Kowalski wrote. “Her Florida firm, Varnell & Warwick, focuses on consumer class actions involving the day-to-day transactions that impact average people the most, such as the financing of a car, a house, or the sale of insurance. She has helped stop some of the most predatory lenders, debt collectors, and fraudsters in the market by making it less economical to prey on the vulnerable.”
Among Varnell’s cases:
• She worked on a team that helped to obtain a ruling against a payday lender that enabled consumers who had been harmed by loans with excessive interest rates to have their day in court. After this victory, Florida consumers obtained a $30 million settlement. Varnell worked closely with the Florida Attorney General and Office of Financial Regulation with the case resulting in fines and restitution being paid; illegal loans voided; and the company being banned from doing business in the state.
• She sued a car dealership for customers who had been overcharged by 800% for a “government fee” with the dealership pocketing the profits. The dealership was trying to avoid being sued for illegal activity and Varnell opened the doors to the courthouse for the consumers who paid exorbitant fees to recover millions.
“Janet is literally and figuratively a force of nature in consumer litigation,” said Craig Rothburd, Tampa attorney and chair of the Consumer Protection Law Committee for the 2018-2019 Bar year during which Varnell was chosen. “Her reputation precedes her, but it is her cool head and kind heart coupled with her boundless enthusiasm to defend the disadvantaged and the underdogs that inspires so many of her colleagues, including myself.”
In a description included by nominators, Varnell said of herself: “I am a product of the American Dream. I grew up as one of six children living with my parents in a two-bedroom house on a tiny farm. My success came by way of education, hard work, and sheer willpower. I have devoted my entire legal career to marketplace justice and stomping out fraud.”
The nomination also noted Varnell’s mentoring of other attorneys:
“Janet’s firm travels the state to work on large impact cases (payday lender, student loan and financing litigation) and has co-counseled with many legal services attorneys to stretch the reach of their resources and to act as mentors to the attorneys.. . (she) has always been a big sponsor of the National Consumer Law Center trainings and has funded many scholarships so legal services attorneys who would not be able to attend because of funding, can do so.”