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Michael Parks, Reporter Who Rose to Lead The Los Angeles Times, Dies at 78

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Michael Parks, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times who went on to become the top editor at the paper, one of the nation’s largest metropolitan dailies, died on Jan. 8 at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif. He was 78.

The cause was a heart attack and kidney failure, his son Christopher said.

Mr. Parks reported from around the world from 1970 to 1995, first for The Baltimore Sun and then for The Los Angeles Times. In his time abroad, he chronicled some of the most significant geopolitical events in modern history, including the war in Vietnam, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unraveling of apartheid in South Africa.

While he was in Johannesburg for The Times, the white-minority government announced in late 1986 that it was expelling him after he had been documenting the brutal segregationist policy of apartheid for two years. As the country lurched violently toward historic change, Mr. Parks was the fifth correspondent that year to receive an expulsion order.

The Times decided to appeal; the story of the Black majority’s rebellion against white rule was too important not to cover. In early 1987, Mr. Parks and editors from Los Angeles met in Cape Town with three government ministers to plead their case.

The ministers brought out boxes containing all 242 articles Mr. Parks had written in 1986. Every one was annotated, with each slight against the white regime duly noted. No doubt, the ministers said, Mr. Parks had cast South Africa in a negative light.

And yet the ministers could not find a single error in any of the 242 dispatches. In a rare move, they reversed the expulsion order and allowed Mr. Parks to stay.

His meticulous reporting was rewarded again a few months later with the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for what the Pulitzer committee called his “balanced and comprehensive coverage of South Africa.”

“He was a student of liberation struggles,” Scott Kraft, who followed Mr. Parks as The Times’s bureau chief in Johannesburg, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Kraft, now a managing editor at The Times, said that as the scholarly Mr. Parks introduced him to his sources, he could see that many of them, particularly the exiled leaders of the African National Congress, enjoyed discussing political philosophy and strategy with him.

“He had been in other world capitals with civil conflict, and he really understood the philosophical basis of liberation movements,” Mr. Kraft said.

And another thing: “He never dressed like a swashbuckling correspondent,” Mr. Kraft added. “He always wore khakis and a blue blazer so that no one could mistake him for a participant.”

Michael Christopher Parks was born on Nov. 17, 1943, in Detroit, the oldest of seven children of Robert J. and Mary Rosalind (Smith) Parks. His father was a teacher in the Detroit public schools, his mother a homemaker.

Michael went to the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, where he majored in classical languages and English literature and graduated in 1965. The year before he graduated, he married Linda Katherine Durocher, a classmate, who became a librarian. She survives him.

In addition to his son Christopher, he is also survived by another son, Matthew; two brothers, Thomas and James; two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Parks and Mary Constance Parks; and four grandchildren. A daughter, Danielle Parks, died of leukemia in 2007.

After college, Mr. Parks became a reporter at The Detroit News and then worked briefly for the Time-Life News Service in New York. He helped start The Suffolk Sun, a newspaper on the East End of Long Island, in 1966 and after two years landed a job at The Baltimore Sun as a government reporter in Annapolis, Md.

His first overseas assignment came in 1970 when The Sun sent him to Saigon to cover the final American combat in Vietnam.

He then served as Moscow bureau chief; Middle East correspondent, based in Cairo; and Hong Kong bureau chief. In 1979, he opened The Sun’s bureau in Beijing. He was one of the first American reporters to be based there after China and the United States established diplomatic relations.

The Los Angeles Times hired him from The Sun in 1980 and kept him in Beijing as bureau chief. From there, he served as bureau chief in Johannesburg, Moscow and Jerusalem. He moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to become deputy foreign editor, managing the paper’s 27 foreign correspondents.

After a year Mr. Parks was promoted to managing editor; in 1997, at 53, he was named the top editor, overseeing an editorial staff of 1,350 people and an annual budget of $120 million.

During his tenure, the paper increased its circulation, expanded its coverage areas, won four Pulitzers and started to diversify its staff.

“He was a terrific foreign correspondent himself,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times and a former editor of The Los Angeles Times, said in an email. “And as editor, he preserved The Los Angeles Times’s role as a major voice in international coverage.”

But it was a tumultuous period. The Chandler family, which had owned the paper for a century, put it up for sale.

In addition, one of the biggest scandals in the paper’s history erupted when The Times devoted the entire issue of its Oct. 10, 1999, Sunday magazine to the opening of Staples Center. In a quiet profit-sharing deal, the paper had split the advertising revenue from the magazine with the center, the subject of its coverage — a flagrant conflict of interest that undermined the paper’s integrity and outraged the staff.

The publisher, Kathryn Downing, took the blame. Mr. Parks said he didn’t know about the profit-sharing deal until after the fact. But the debacle occurred on his watch, and some criticized him for not doing anything once he did learn about the deal, like publishing an article disclosing it to readers. In a long investigative report by The Times about the matter, published on Dec. 20, 1999, Mr. Parks said he had “failed” in his job as gatekeeper and expressed his “profound regret.”

The Tribune Company bought The Times in 2000 and installed its own team, including a new editor, John Carroll.

Mr. Parks then began a two-decade second career at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He taught and served two stints as director of the journalism school, expanding its international reporting programs and its focus on developing expertise in covering diverse communities. He retired from Annenberg in 2020.



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Fashion Nova Is Fined for Suppressing Negative Reviews

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Retailers may want to think twice before removing negative reviews from their websites.

The Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday that Fashion Nova, a popular fast-fashion clothing site, will be required to pay $4.2 million to settle allegations that it had suppressed customer reviews that gave products less than four out of five stars.

The agency said the case was its first involving a company’s efforts to conceal negative reviews.

Fashion Nova used a third-party product review system that held lower-starred reviews for approval before they could be posted, the F.T.C. said in a complaint. As early as 2015 and as late as 2019, Fashion Nova automatically posted four- and five-star reviews to its site but did not approve or publish hundreds of thousands of lower-starred, more negative reviews, according to the complaint.

While e-commerce has boomed, particularly during the pandemic, the ecosystem of online reviews remains relatively crude. The F.T.C. has sought to police companies like the skin-care brand Sunday Riley for posting fake reviews online in recent years, though this is the first instance of the agency challenging “review suppression.”

These actions by the F.T.C. tend to act as warning signals to other companies. The agency said on Tuesday that it had sent letters to 10 companies that offer review management services, telling them they cannot avoid collecting and publishing negative reviews.

In addition to the fine, Fashion Nova is barred from misrepresenting customer reviews or other endorsements.

“Deceptive review practices cheat consumers, undercut honest businesses and pollute online commerce,” Samuel Levine, the director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.



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They Need Legal Advice on Debts. Should It Have to Come From Lawyers?

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The Rev. John Udo-Okon, a Pentecostal minister in the Bronx, has a lot of congregants who are sued by debt collectors and don’t know what to do.

Like most of the millions of Americans sued over consumer debt each year, Pastor Udo-Okon’s congregants typically cannot retain a lawyer. When they fail to respond to the suit, they lose the case by default.

“They don’t know how to fight back; they just give up, only they find out that their credit has been destroyed,” Pastor Udo-Okon said.

Pastor Udo-Okon would like to become a volunteer counselor and help people defend themselves against these suits by participating in a training program created by Upsolve, a financial-counseling nonprofit. The program would teach him how to walk people through the first steps of contesting a consumer debt lawsuit.

But there’s a catch: Offering tips on how to fight a suit would probably be illegal. Rules in New York, as in most states, forbid practicing law without a license, and giving individualized advice on how to respond to litigation is generally considered practicing law.

On Tuesday, Upsolve took a step aimed at undoing the catch: It filed a lawsuit against the state attorney general’s office in federal court in Manhattan, arguing that barring nonlawyers from giving the kind of basic advice Upsolve would teach them to offer would violate the First Amendment. Pastor Udo-Okon is a co-plaintiff.

Upsolve says a ruling in its favor would clear the way for thousands of lay professionals — social workers, clergy members, community organizers and the like — to help correct a gigantic imbalance in the legal playing field.

According to a 2020 Pew Charitable Trusts report, at least four million Americans a year are sued over consumer debt. Less than 10 percent retain lawyers, and more than 70 percent of cases end in default judgments against the defendant.

In 2018 and 2019, a total of 265,000 consumer debt suits were filed in city and district civil courts in New York State. Over 95 percent of the defendants were not represented by a lawyer, and of those, 88 percent did not respond to the suit, according to figures from the state court system.

Upsolve’s founder, Rohan Pavuluri, called the situation a “fundamental civil rights injustice.”

“What we have isn’t legal rights under the law,” he said. “What we have is legal rights if you can afford a lawyer.”

The office of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, did not immediately respond Tuesday morning to a request for comment on the suit and to a question about whether the help Upsolve wants to offer would violate rules on the unlicensed practice of law. The New York State Bar Association, which represents lawyers, said it would not comment on pending litigation.

In America, consumers are served with suits alleging failure to make payments of all kinds, whether for phone bills or fish tanks. The most common subjects of debt collection suits include medical bills, credit card balances and auto loans.

Americans do not legitimately owe most of the debt they are sued for, according to consumer advocates. A 2010 report by the Legal Aid Society found that in more than one-third of debt-collection cases reviewed, the debt had already been paid or had resulted from mistaken identity or identity theft; the statute of limitations on collecting the debt had expired; or the debt had been shed in bankruptcy. ACA International, a trade group for debt collectors, did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment on the Legal Aid Society’s report.

Marshal Coleman, a veteran consumer lawyer in Manhattan, said that most consumer debt suits were over matters of a few thousand dollars. “Typically, if a client like that comes to a lawyer,” he said, “a lawyer’s not going to be able to help them because the fees will exceed the value of the services.”

There are legal aid organizations that offer free representation to low-income people, but they tend to focus their very limited resources on other matters, like domestic-violence protection orders, evictions and foreclosures. Legal Services NYC, the city’s biggest provider of free civil legal services, has 450 lawyers on staff. Only one concentrates on consumer debt suits.

Faced with the daunting prospect of fighting a suit on their own, many people simply ignore it and hope it goes away.

A New York State law requires a summons announcing a lawsuit to include a statement containing no fewer than 14 exclamation points: “THIS IS A COURT PAPER — A SUMMONS! DON’T THROW IT AWAY!!” it shouts. It later continues, “IF YOU CAN’T PAY FOR YOUR OWN LAWYER, BRING THESE PAPERS TO THIS COURT RIGHT AWAY. THE CLERK (PERSONAL APPEARANCE) WILL HELP YOU!!”

The summons does not include information about a multiple-choice form that you can fill out with 24 possible defenses. Some, like “I dispute the amount of the debt,” are simple. Others are more lawyerly and contain terms like “unconscionability” and “laches.” The form is available only in English.

This is where Upsolve hopes to come in. The nonprofit has produced an 18-page “justice advocate training guide” for volunteer counselors. The guide includes a script that explains each of the boxes on the state form in plain language and instructions for helping the defendant fill it out.

New York’s judiciary rules make it a criminal misdemeanor for someone who is not a registered and licensed attorney to practice law. Upsolve’s suit argues that coming together to provide and receive free legal advice is a form of speech and association covered by the First Amendment.

The suit does not seek to overturn the rules. Rather, it asks the court to evaluate Upsolve’s volunteer-counselor program and carve out protection for it. The suit notes that New York lets nonlawyers who pass an exam represent workers’ compensation claimants.

Upsolve also argues that applying the unauthorized-practice-of-law rules to its volunteer counselors would “impede the very interests” the rules are meant to advance: protecting consumers from being fleeced and safeguarding the integrity of the justice system.

Laurence Tribe, the liberal legal icon who headed an access-to-justice initiative in President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, said in an interview that demanding a law degree to help someone fill out a simple form serves largely to protect lawyers from competition. He said of Upsolve’s suit, “If you want a test case to bring sanity as well as constitutional values to a process in which the legal profession has edged out both, this is it.”

Upsolve’s suit contains affidavits from people who say they would have benefited greatly from free legal help.

Liz Jurado of Bay Shore, N.Y., received a notice in 2019 from the Suffolk County sheriff’s office concerning a bill for an epidural she had been given during labor more than a decade before.

Ms. Jurado, 45, who works at DoorDash, said she had never been served with a lawsuit, yet the notice said there had been a default judgment against her and that she owed an anesthesiologist over $12,000.

When she gave birth, doctors “didn’t give me an option and say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is not covered’ — there was no talk about insurance,” she said.

The debt forced Ms. Jurado into bankruptcy. She said that even if she had known about the suit before the default judgment was entered, she could not have afforded the thousands of dollars a lawyer would have charged to help her fight it.

“If I could afford the lawyer fees, I would have just paid the bill,” she said.

Christopher Lepre, 48, a technician at a power plant on Long Island, sent “multiple emails to many lawyers” seeking help after he received a default judgment demanding nearly $16,000 for a loan for a used, warranted S.U.V. he had bought.

None called back, he said.

His wages have been garnished by over $1,000 per month since early last year for the S.U.V., which stopped working three months after he bought it.

“In a couple more months, it’ll be paid off, but I’m still out all that money,” Mr. Lepre said. “I’ll never get it back.”



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OSHA withdraws its workplace vaccine rule.

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The Biden administration is withdrawing its requirement that large employers mandate workers be vaccinated or regularly tested, the Labor Department said on Tuesday.

In pulling the rule, the Labor Department recognized what most employers and industry experts said after the court’s ruling — that the emergency temporary standard could not be revived after the Supreme Court blocked it earlier this month.

“It’s their admitting what everyone had been saying, which is that the rule is dead,” said Brett Coburn, a lawyer at Alston & Bird.

The Supreme Court’s decision, which was 6 to 3, with the liberal justices in dissent, said the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, did not have the authority to require workers to be vaccinated for coronavirus or tested weekly, describing the agency’s approach as “a blunt instrument.” The mandate would have applied to some 80 million people if it had not been struck down.

The Labor Department’s decision to withdraw the rule means that the outstanding legal proceedings will be dropped. The case was headed back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati for further consideration, though that court most likely would have followed the Supreme Court’s lead and struck it down.

OSHA could still try to move a version of the vaccine-or-test standard forward through its official rule-making process, such as one focused on high-hazard industries like meatpacking, but that would likely still face legal challenges, according to David Michaels, a former OSHA administrator and a professor at George Washington University.

Without the Labor Department’s standard in effect, employers are subject to a patchwork of state and local laws on Covid-19 workplace safety, with places like New York City requiring vaccine mandates and other governments banning them.

“OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by Covid-19 in the workplace,” the Labor Department wrote in the notice of its withdrawal.



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