Michael Shames (left)
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Michael Shames, deposed head of Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN), says that San Diego–based fast food chain Jack in the Box is ripping off its customers.

Shames's lawsuit, filed June 18 in San Diego Superior Court, also names 12 Jack in the Box franchisees. The suit charges that the Jumbo Jack is available as part of a Combo meal, with fries and a drink, or can be ordered separately from the Value Menu. When a customer orders a Jumbo Jack alone from the Value Menu and adds cheese, he or she is overcharged between 10 cents and 25 cents a sandwich, according to the suit.

Jack in the Box could be doing this "intentionally or unintentionally," and not all franchisees engage in the practice, says Shames. The suit claims the practice is a violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act and the Unfair Competition Law.

The practice "is so small that most customers don't realize they have been gouged," says Shames on his sandiegocan.org website. The suit asserts that consumers face "irreparable harm" from the alleged practice.

Shames's lawyer is his longtime colleague Hallen Rosner. When Shames headed UCAN, its staff would gather information on consumer ripoffs, and Rosner would sue for damages. Some UCAN staffers complained that the staff did the work and the lawyers reaped the benefits.

After a day and a half of telephone calls seeking comment from Jack in the Box, I heard nothing. If the company gets back, I will post its comment.

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Comments

Burwell June 27, 2014 @ 2:07 p.m.

Has Shames paid off that $100,000 in legal fees he owes for filing that bogus defamation lawsuit?

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Don Bauder June 27, 2014 @ 3:20 p.m.

Burwell; I do not know if he has paid, but I will try to find out. He sued the whistleblower David Peffer and Peffer's lawyer Mike Aguirre, and lost both. He sued UCAN which sued back. The last I heard, (which was about two weeks ago), both suits were still pending. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 28, 2014 @ 7:26 a.m.

CaptainObvious: Actually, in the days when UCAN was suing companies for fraud, using lawyers such as Rosner and Bill Lerach, the target firms were very often not utilities. UCAN had a separate fraud unit that monitored consumer ripoffs. The lawyers then sued the companies believed to be scamming consumers. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh June 27, 2014 @ 8:35 p.m.

Hmmm. I've ordered that burger with cheese, and paid the price without seeing anything abusive. The extra cost for cheese is rather steep, I'll admit, but the whole thing is price competitive. I'd wonder just how he determined that it's an "overcharge."

But in a larger sense, has Shameless lost his marbles? Or is he trying to be a reincarnation of Ralph Nader? He's neither, and has no credibility with me at all; nor should he have any with anyone who lives in the area. Just what is he up to?

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Don Bauder June 28, 2014 @ 7:33 a.m.

Visduh: Since he was dropped by UCAN as a result of very questionable activities, Shames has tried to recover his status through the website sandiegocan.org. I do not know if it has a significant number of members. As I said, he sued the whistleblower and the whistleblower's lawyer, and lost. He is suing UCAN, which sued back. Best, Don Bauder

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JustWondering June 28, 2014 @ 7:12 a.m.

IMO he is like the aging Hollywood celebrity who will do most anything to direct the spotlight back onto themselves. They must reinvent "the buzz" or risk becoming irrelevant. They thrive on attention.

I have no doubt as a young idealistic attorney Mr. Shames' motivation stood for something good, but over the years a new portrait emerged on the canvas of his life. Today, we have Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray. A man who outwardly portrays goodness but who's inner soul was loss to the evils of greed and deception.

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Don Bauder June 28, 2014 @ 7:44 a.m.

JustWondering: I, too, think Shames's original motives were honorable. But then that bitch-goddess, Greed, bit him. UCAN employees saw what was going on and revolted. The board was slow to act but finally ousted him. The attorney general said he should return some of the money he had taken in. It has been pretty much all downhill from there.

The story is recorded in my Reader columns going back to mid-2011. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 28, 2014 @ 10:27 a.m.

Murphyjunk: The irony is San Diego, and other California metro areas, need organizations like UCAN and TURN to try to keep the utilities and the CPUC in line. Unfortunately, the manipulation of intervenor fees by the CPUC steers the erst-watchdog groups off course -- toward that pot of gold that goes to intervenors who play ball with the commission. Best, Don Bauder

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Bob McPhail June 28, 2014 @ 10:04 a.m.

Many, many years ago I wrote about UCAN for the Reader after its previous director complained that the group was running far afield of representing utility consumers and engaging in political activities. I recorded a lengthy face-to-face interview with Mr. Shames conducted in his office and quoted from it in my story. Mr. Shames later denied he said what I had him on tape saying. I naively thought the tape would vindicate my reporting. It was enough for my editors, but with the public at large, Mr. Shames turned it into a "he said, he said" contest. There was nothing I could do but shake my head in dismay and feel sorry for the innocents who kept giving money to UCAN.

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Don Bauder June 28, 2014 @ 10:32 a.m.

Bob McPhail: I have heard about your UCAN story, but I have never seen it. People tell me that the Reader had UCAN figured out some time ago, and they are possibly alluding to your story.

It sounds like you have been vindicated, and it was a long time coming. Best, Don Bauder

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Founder June 28, 2014 @ 2:02 p.m.

Bob McPhail

Is your story posted anywhere and if so, do you have a link for it?

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:04 a.m.

Founder: I don't know if that story is posted anywhere. I believe it ran in the days before the Internet, if it is the same story I have heard about. Best, Don Bauder

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Founder June 28, 2014 @ 1:59 p.m.

If San Diegan's were lucky they would demand a group like citizensoversight.org be allowed to take over from what is left of UCAN and then San Diego would really have a Pro Ratepayer advocate that would work for them instead of themselves!

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:09 a.m.

Founder: I am glad you posted Lutz's video. I got it a couple of days ago and meant to see if we could post it. I agree: San Diego needs a group like citizensoversight.org to represent utility ratepayers.

UCAN, which is severely ailing financially, has come out in favor of the $3.3 billion ripoff of ratepayers proposed in the so-called compromise. It appears that UCAN is snuggling up to the CPUC to get fat intervenor fees. That was Shames's strategy in his latter years. San Diego needs a watchdog with guts. Best, Don Bauder

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monaghan June 28, 2014 @ 3:26 p.m.

Aside from the fact that this guy should spell his last name "Shams," Visduh still eats burgers with cheese from Jack and, elsewhere, uses the quaint phrase "maiden name?" Don Bauder feminizes Greed as a "bitch-goddess?" Where are we -- back in the '50's?

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:22 a.m.

monaghan: I suppose we should do a better job in not using verbiage that can be interpreted as anti-feminist. On the other hand, ask yourself questions such as this: Should anyone who thought O.J. Simpson was guilty of murder be called a racist? Should everybody who criticizes Sheldon Adelson or loathed Meyer Lansky be considered anti-Semitic? Was everyone critical of Leona Helmsley a male chauvinistic pig?

Frankly, I see nothing wrong with "maiden name" or "bitch-goddess." Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh June 29, 2014 @ 10:32 a.m.

I like "Shameless" better. We products of the 50's are now old dogs, and cannot learn new tricks.

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 5:05 p.m.

Visduh: We can still sit up and beg. And roll over and play dead. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh June 29, 2014 @ 6:55 p.m.

Those are very old tricks. Backflips? Fuhgeddabouddit!

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:05 p.m.

Visduh: How many dogs and old men can do backflips? Best, Don Bauder

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BlueSouthPark June 28, 2014 @ 3:59 p.m.

I'm begging: someone, please explain what this all means. How can you order a "sandwich only" from a Combo unit? On the Shames website, they say:

So, here’s the full story: Jack in the Box’s top selling sandwich is the Jumbo Jack. It is available both as part of a combination meal, with fries and a drink, or separately as a sandwich only on the restaurant’s Value Menu. The burger can also be ordered from the combination meal as a sandwich only.

What?? So, you go up and say "I want the Jumbo Jack Combo but I don't want the fries or the drink"??? You can do this and get the order-taker to comprehend?

And will someone please tell me the various prices for these different items?

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:48 a.m.

BlueSouthPark: Yes, the explanation on the website was a bit clumsy. The lawsuit charges that Jack and its franchisees "engaged, intentionally or unintentionally, in the standard practice and/or procedure of overcharging customers who ordered Jumbo Jack sandwiches and added cheese. When plaintiff ordered a Jumbo Jack and added cheese, he was charged for the higher-priced 'Combo-Sandwich Only,' resulting in systematic overcharges of between $.10-$.25 per Jumbo Jack sandwich."

Then the suit charges that those who paid the higher price for the Jumbo Jack "sustained injuries, losses and damages," and "are facing irreparable harm." Hmm.

I did not see any place on either the website or in the lawsuit in which the prices of Jumbo Jacks -- on the Combo and Value Menu -- are spelled out. Best, Don Bauder

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ImJustABill June 28, 2014 @ 8:20 p.m.

I think lawsuits like this have only one significant effect: They make a lot of money for lawyers.

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 9:19 a.m.

JustWondering: See my response to ImJustABill. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:56 a.m.

ImJustABill: There are many abuses in such lawsuits. Bill Lerach grossly overstepped the bounds when he was suing companies left and right every time their stocks dropped. Other lawyers are guilty of such abuses, too.

However, in many areas, such as securities protection, the state and federal regulators are not doing their jobs -- in fact, are controlled by the institutions they supposedly regulate. In such cases, it is necessary to have the plaintiff bar keeping the offenders in line. Congress won't give these regulators the money to operate, and reins them in through legislation. The Supreme Court recently reined in plaintiff lawyers even more. This helps the crooks -- exactly what the Supreme Court intended. Best, Don Bauder

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ImJustABill June 30, 2014 @ 10:49 p.m.

Money is a formidable foe.

The securities firms have tons of money so they can hire the best attorneys and accountants. Even worse, they know the government attorneys and investigators may want to work for their firms someday as they travel through the "revolving door".

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Don Bauder July 1, 2014 @ 7:21 a.m.

ImJustABill: Through the revolving door phenomenon, Wall Street law firms effectively control the Securities and Exchange Commission. I have written many columns on that. Best, Don Bauder

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xians421 June 29, 2014 @ 7:41 p.m.

Completely idiotic and frivolous. Of COURSE a Jumbo Jack costs a little more when not part of a combo. The whole idea of a combo meal is to get you to save a little cash by spending a little more for more food. This raises the $ per transaction average and benefits both the consumer and the store.

Next up: Shameless sues every cable company in the country for charging more for un-bundled internet. Meh.

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Don Bauder June 29, 2014 @ 8:09 p.m.

xians421: If this suit gets to trial, your view may prevail. I can't see Jack and its franchisees settling right away because of the cost of litigation. Incidentally, I still have not heard from Jack in the Box. Best, Don Bauder

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Burwell June 29, 2014 @ 10:05 p.m.

It Rosner wins or settles the case, he will probably be awarded at least $2 million in legal fees. It's not clear how any settlement would compensate consumers like Visduh who were gouged for the extra cheese. Are they going to send Visduh a check for 30 cents, or give him a coupon for free cheese on his next purchase? Rosner's the real plaintiff in this case, not consumers like Visduh. If the case is settled, Shames is supposed to receive the same compensation as the other class members: basically nothing. What is Shames' vig on this lawsuit? Is he going to settle for his free cheese coupon or is he going to get more?

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Don Bauder June 30, 2014 @ 7:51 a.m.

Burwell: Many class actions are settled by the complainants getting a free box of the product, while the lawyers rake in actual cash. That's how this one would probably be settled -- each complainant getting a coupon for a free Jumbo Jack with cheese.

However, I rather doubt Jack will settle this one out of court. The company could easily conclude that the case is winnable, and Shames could be forced to pay court costs. Often, companies settle, giving the excuse that it's is less expensive to settle than to go to court. I am not sure that will happen this time. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi June 30, 2014 @ 7:17 p.m.

Doesn’t Shames have to first prove it is actually food (fit for consumption) being served? Is it real “cheese” and is the Jumbo Jack really “jumbo.” I think a more vital pursuit is to sue on behalf of all the blown-up clowns. Perhaps demand the identity ingredients of “Jack’s Secret Sauce” or maybe for the return of the acclaimed Bonus Jack.

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Don Bauder June 30, 2014 @ 9:26 p.m.

Ponzi: 1. The Jumbo Jack is probably jumbo compared with other burgers served by Jack. 2. It seems to me it would be more expensive to manufacture faux cheese than make the real thing. 3. As to those blown-up clowns: the statute of limitations has run out on those poor fellows. They can't sue. Best, Don Bauder

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