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market selloff headline

Monday, March 22, 2010

USF Investor Clinic seeks justice for small investors

After a two-year battle with Charles Schwab & Co., San Francisco comedian Tissa Hami finally has something to smile about.

Last week, a financial arbitration panel awarded her $9,356, plus interest and fees, almost making up for her losses when the Schwab fund she had been assured was safe went kaput in 2008.

"I'm thrilled with the result, but I don't think I've conveyed how miserable they made my life," said the Iranian-born Hami.

It also marks another victory for the USF Investor Justice Clinic, which goes to bat for aggrieved small investors, like Hami, that private attorneys, looking for fatter payouts, are disinclined to represent.

"It's a big problem for anyone who loses money under $100,000" in questionable investment schemes, said the clinic's director, Robert Talbot, a University of San Francisco law professor.

Since its inception nine years ago, when Enron was all over the news, the clinic, funded by USF's law school and outside grants, has clawed back close to $800,000 for its clients, all free of charge. Small potatoes, perhaps, but important enough for people who can't afford to lose them.

"We'll handle cases as low as $1,000," Talbot said. "We look to help anybody who can't get a lawyer."

'For people like you': Hami's case is one of dozens referred to the project by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an independent agency that runs an arbitration system better suited to handle cases like Hami's.

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