The other day here we were discussing the general incompetence of so
many folks working in customer service/tech support functions for the
Someone wrote to say with cable modem (which I happen to have very
good experience with) was not always a wonderful way to go. This
reminded me of the experience of a lady named Judy Sammel, who wrote
an essay which appeared in various sources during 1999-2000 about
what happened to her, as a user of Comcast. We put it in the archives
here, but have not used it since. You can read it as a feature story
in the archives now (since the archives was remodeled a couple weeks
ago) but here today is a text based version of her fascinating story;
how she was falsely accused of 'fraud and theft of cable service'. If
you are considering Comcast for your cable modem/high speed internet
service, you will want to read this account.
Chapter 1: In Which I Learn About the Various Divisions of the District
Court of the State of Maryland.
Thursday, November 19, 1998: It's an ordinary day. I get home from
work, picking up the mail as I walk toward my house. I notice that the
return address on one of the letters is the District Court of the
State of Maryland. As I walk up the front steps, I think, "I just did
jury duty last year; they can't be asking me to serve again so soon,
can they?" After I settle in at home, I open the letter and read, "You
have been summoned to appear as a defendant in a trial...". My first
thought is that someone is suing me for something, but then I see at
the top of the page 'State of Maryland vs. Sammel, Judith Lynne', and
realize that this isn't a person suing me.
My second thought is that I've gotten a parking ticket that blew off
of my windshield and has gone unpaid, or maybe a speeding ticket from
the traffic cameras I've heard about. It's too late to call the
Court to see what the case is about, so I have to wait until the next
The next morning, I call the telephone number that's printed on the
letter, and a recording says something like "press 1 for Civil
Division, 2 for Traffic Division, 3 for Criminal Division, 4 for
information about specific cases," etc. I choose the option for
information about specific cases, and the person who answers the phone
asks me to read her the case number. After I read it, I hear her
say, "Just a minute. Let me transfer you to the Criminal
"Whaaaaaaaaat?" I ask, but it's too late. I'm on hold.
Someone else picks up the phone, and again I read the case number and
ask what the case is about.
"Cable fraud, " she replies.
Chapter 2: In Which Comcast Cablevision's Administrative Offices in
Baltimore are Informed that "At Home" is More Than Just "A Place
They'd Rather Be Than At The Office"
Unfortunately, I think I know what the problem is. I had signed up for
Comcast@home cable modem service last March, but had not signed up for
cable TV service. (Last time I checked, this was legal. In fact, it is
mentioned specifically as a service in the FAQ list on @home's web
site.) But, when they came to install my @home service, they had
neglected to install the filter (they call it a video trap) to filter
out the video signal; from reaching my home. (I live in a townhouse
community, and there is a "pedestal" containing cable connections for
several houses -- this is a few houses away from mine.) The
installers had told me that they would return to install the video
trap, and that I could enjoy cable TV service until they came back to
do so -- they said I should consider it an incentive to sign up for
the service. Well, they never came back to install the video trap.
Then, in early June, my @home service stopped working. I made several
calls to Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home customer service. Each
claimed that it was the responsibility of the other to determine what
the problem was, and fix it. During my conversations with Comcast
Cablevision and Comcast@home, I told them both that nobody had come
back to install the video trap. Finally, Comcast@home agreed to come
out and see what the problem was. I told them that they should bring a
video trap with them when they came to repair the service. Because of
their schedule and my vacation schedule, they didn't come out to
repair the service until late June. The repair technician, when he
arrived, said that the reason that my @home service stopped working
was that someone had disconnected the cable in the cable "pedestal" on
my street. He said that it was likely that Comcast Cablevision
personnel had done this, not realizing that I had Comcast@home
service. When he'd reconnected my service, I asked him about the
installation of the video trap. He said he hadn't brought one
with him, but would take care of it later. Again, nobody came
back to install the device.
So, after I receive this letter from the District Court, I figure that
Comcast Cablevision has been out to my neighborhood and has seen that
I was connected up again (and again not realized that I had
Comcast@home cable modem service.) I call the administrative offices
of Comcast Cablevision here in Baltimore, and explain the
situation. They say that they will have Comcast's attorneys call me to
discuss it. I also make the suggestion that they come out and install
a video trap on my line so that this won't happen again. They assure
me they will send someone out that day to do it. I get home fairly
late that evening and find that the video trap hasn't been
installed. Since the Comcast administrative offices are closed by this
time, I call @home customer service. I call at 10:30 PM and remain on
hold until 11:15 PM, at which time a customer service representative
takes the call. When I ask about getting a video trap placed on the
line, his first response is that Comcast, not @home, should take care
of that, and I should call Comcast customer service. I explain to him
that, based on my prior experience with Comcast customer service, if I
call them, the following situation will likely occur: the Comcast
customer service representative will ask for my Comcast account
number; I will reply that I have none, since I am only a Comcast@home
customer, not a Comcast cable TV customer; the service representative
will tell me they can't do anything for me, and I will have to call
@home customer service. He then agrees to talk to his supervisor. He
returns to the line to tell me that he will place a work order for a
video trap to be placed on the line.
Chapter 3: In Which I Wait Not-So-Patiently for Comcast's Attorney to
Call, and for the Video Trap to be Installed Saturday, November 21,
After I place two calls to their offices, Comcast's attorney who is
assigned to my case returns my call to assure me that the criminal
charges will be dropped. I mention that the video trap wasn't
installed the previous day.
Sunday, November 22, 1998: As of Sunday morning, neither Comcast nor
@home has arrived to place a video trap on the line. I call Comcast
customer service to ask about the status of this, and am initially
told that since I am not a Comcast cable TV customer, I have to call
@home to resolve any problems. I explain that the situation is related
to criminal charges that Comcast has filed against me, and ask the
account executive to try to find a way to assist me from her location.
She asks for my name and address. I give it to her, and she comes back
on the line after a few moments and says that the only name she has
listed at that address is that of former occupants of my home
(from1989-1992). I explain again that I am not a Comcast cable TV
customer, but only a Comcast@home customer, so there would likely not
be a record of my name, unless she has records of Comcast@home
customers as well as Comcast cable TV customers. She again asks me to
hold the line. When she returns, she says that she has checked into
the situation with @home, and has found out that the video trap was
not placed on the line because the part is out of stock. She says that
when parts are shipped, they will send an installer out to put it
in. She says that in the meantime, I cannot be held responsible for
the signal coming into my home.
Tuesday, November 24, 1998: Comcast's attorney leaves a message on my
answering machine saying: "I withdrew ... did a request to withdraw
those charging documents" . I will soon find out the hard way that the
"withdrew ... did a request to withdraw" wording actually means
something -- Comcast doesn't have the ability to get criminal charges
dropped on their own, even though they're the ones who got the court
to file them in the first place. Once the charges are "in the system",
Comcast can only *request* that this be done.
Chapter 4: In Which A Police Officer Serves Me With A Criminal Summons
in Front of an Out-of-Town Houseguest on the Eve of Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 25, 1998: A uniformed police officer drives up to
my house in his police cruiser and delivers the summons to me; it
shows 4 counts of cable fraud, with the possibility of 6 months in
jail on each count. I had always wondered why, when someone
commits what appears to be a single crime, you hear things about being
charged with "10 counts" of something-or-other. In my case, Comcast's
visit in June (when they cut off my service) was 2 counts -- one for
cable having been fraudulently hooked up, one for fraudulent receipt
of service; and a subsequent visit they made in July, during which
they saw that service had been reconnected, was again 2 counts. I try
to tell the police officer what Comcast's attorney has told me to tell
him -- that the charges are being dropped, and that he should call her
to verify this -- but he could care less about this -- he just wants a
signature on the papers and wants to leave. A friend of mine, who has
driven up from Virginia to spend the holiday weekend with me, is
sitting nearby in my kitchen watching this sorry event; it's a really
humiliating experience. Anyway, by the end of the day, I find that the
video trap has finally been installed on the line.
Chapter 5: In Which I Come to the Conclusion that Lady Justice is Not
Just Blindfolded, But Actually Blind
Monday, November 30, 1998: I telephone the State's Attorney's office
to see if they have received and processed Comcast's request to
withdraw the charges. They tell me that it has been received,
and that the State's Attorney's office has disapproved Comcast's
request. They tell me that no reason for the disapproval was
supplied. I begin to feel like a character in a Kafka novel. I
call Comcast's administrative offices in Baltimore and tell them that
the State's Attorney has denied the request to withdraw charges.
"They can't do that!" the employee that I speak to exclaims.
"Well, obviously they can, because ... they have," I reply.
Chapter 6: In Which I Determine That an Excellent Way to Pique
Someone's Curiosity is to Ask, "Do You Have any Recommendations for a
Good Criminal Defense Attorney?"
No chapter here, but it's too good of a title to pass up. Actually, I
am told by some colleagues who are attorneys that even in a
cut-and-dried case like this, I should expect to pay $750 or $1000 for
an attorney if I need to mount a defense in court.
Chapter 7: In Which I Find Out that the Attorney for Comcast Actually
Does Have a Sense of Humor: I speak with the Comcast attorney about my
call to State's Attorney's office. She says she was unaware that
State's Attorney has denied the request to drop the charges, and that
she will write another letter to ensure that the situation is taken
care of. She also asks about whether the video trap has been installed
and is working correctly. I tell her that everything is blocked except
for 2 religious channels, 1 Spanish language channel, and the video
portion of E! TV. She says something along the lines of, "I guess the
signal of the Lord manages to find its way through somehow."
Chapter 8: In Which I Learn That the Cable TV Franchising Authority is
Willing to Handle Complaints About Cable TV Issues -- But Only Up To a
A friend of mine had suggested that I find out who the Franchising
Authority for cable television in Baltimore County is, and that I ask
them to assist in the getting the problem resolved. I find out that
the Baltimore County Council is the local Franchising Authority. On
November 30, I call the County Council's offices and speak to an
employee who is assigned to handle cable television issues. I explain
the situation; she says she will check into it. On December 1, I speak
to her again, and she says she had gotten in touch with the Assistant
to the VP at Comcast Cablevision of Baltimore, and he will call her
back with information. On December 3, when I speak to her again, she
says that the assistant to the VP had assured her that Comcast is
working on the problem. She is satisfied with this answer, and
encourages me to "call her back to let her know when the problem's
been resolved". It's nice to know that the employees of our
local elected officials are really concerned about taking such a
proactive role in ensuring that the problems of constituents are
Chapter 9: Boy, Do I Feel Like A Criminal
Thursday, December 3, 1998: One of the other
Comcast attorneys calls me to say that the only person at the
State's Attorney's office who can take care of the situation is an
Assistant State's Attorney who is the Chief of the District Court
Division, and that he has been out of the office all week. The
attorney gives me the phone number, and tells me I can try to reach
him myself. I call the number a few times during the day, and am
alternately told that he is out of the office, or that "you're not
allowed to call the State's Attorney, you're a defendant!" I
leave a message for him, but it is not returned.
Also, around this time, I have a bizarre discussion with the Comcast
attorney to try to find out why the State's Attorney disapproved the
request to withdraw the charges. She explains that procedurally, they
cannot withdraw the charges once the trial date has been set, and the
summons has been served. She tells me that I should have "avoided
being served". I never thought I'd ever get myself into a situation
where I had to make a point of avoiding process servers. Anyway, it's
true that the trial date had already been set (it was set on the same
day Comcast applied for the Statement of Charges, November 17,
1998). But, the summons was not served to me until Wednesday, November
25. The State's Attorney disapproved the request for withdrawal of the
charges on Tuesday, November 24, the day before I was served. So,
either the State's Attorney's office doesn't know its own procedures,
doesn't bother to follow them, or perhaps there's something more
nefarious going on; I'm still not sure.
Chapter 10: In Which I Get To Speak With Sandra O'Connor's
Friday, December 4, 1998: No, not *that* Sandra O'Connor. Baltimore
County has its own, local, Sandra O'Connor. She's the State's attorney
(an elected official) and I've actually voted for her. I speak with
her Deputy for Operations. Since he's responsible for the overseeing
the District Court Division, he's the one that the Chief of the
District Court Division reports to. I explain that Comcast said that
the Chief of the District Court Division was the only one who could
take care of the situation, but that he's been unavailable for several
days. I ask the Deputy for Operations if he can take care of the
situation in his employee's absence. He tells me no -- that I should
wait until his employee returns on the following Monday. He tells me
that there is nothing in my file to show that Comcast has done
anything related to the case since November 24, and that, if Comcast
has promised to get the charges dismissed, I should be "on them" to
take care of it.
Chapter 11: In Which I Get to Sit and Stew About This for Another
Weekend Because the Only Person on Earth Who Can Apparently Take Care
of this Situation is Either in Training, on Vacation, or Simply Out of
the Office, Depending Upon Whom You Talk To.
December 5-6, 1998: My demeanor begins to degrade into "don't get mad,
get even" mode. I do some research on what the elements of a case of
malicious prosecution are. (And, of course, I can do all of my
research over the Internet -- at cable modem speeds.) Paraphrasing
one article that I read, the elements are:
1. The people that you sue for malicious prosecution have to be the
one that got charges filed against you in the first place.
2. The case has to have been decided in your favor, in one way or
3. There has to have been a lack of probable cause.
4. There has to have been malice.
5. There have to be damages.
Although "malice" in this situation might be hard to prove, one
article published on the subject asserts that malice can be implied
from a lack of probable cause, and from inadequate investigation and
"Lack of probable cause" might also be difficult to prove here, but I
believe that a good lawyer could argue that the fact that "cables have
been connected and Comcast Cablevision was not the one who connected
them" is no longer acceptable as probable cause, now that Comcast
Cablevision has given @home (or its local affiliate, Comcast Online
Communications) the authority to connect them.
Chapter 12: Things Finally Start Falling Into Place
December 7, 1998: I leave a voice mail message for the General Counsel
at Comcast's Corporate Headquarters in Philadelphia telling him I'm
unhappy with the way the situation is being handled, and that I'm
considering filing a case in civil court for malicious prosecution. I
receive a conciliatory call back from him, and also from one of the
local Comcast attorneys telling me that the situation is being taken
care of promptly.
I finally get a call from the Chief of the District Court Division of
the State's Attorney's office saying they will "nol pros" the
case. It's great; I'm getting to learn some Latin while I'm at
it. "Nol pros" is short for "nolle prosequi", which is Latin for "I
will not prosecute." I can't believe it's taken over two weeks just to
get a verbal agreement from the State's Attorney not to prosecute a
case that everyone involved clearly agrees was based on a Comcast
December 12, 1998: I receive a courtesy copy of a letter from
the State's Attorney to the Judge, requesting that the trial date be
moved up, and saying that they intend to nol pros.
December 22, 1998: I call the District Court, and find out that
the Judge has moved the trial date up to January 12, 1999, instead of
the original date, which was in March 1999.
Chapter 13: In Which I Get an Unsolicited Letter From a Local Criminal
December 30, 1998: I come home from work to find another interesting
letter in my mailbox; this time it's from a local criminal defense
attorney. It reads,
"Dear Ms. Sammel,
When you are charged with a criminal offense, not only can your
freedom and liberty be taken away, a criminal record can affect
you the rest of your life."
The attorney then proceeds to offer his services, and even provides me
with a handy little reminder card with my trial date stamped on it.
Great. I guess that since the court's records are considered public
documents, anyone can come in and get copies of them. I'm afraid to
think about what kinds of mailing lists I could end up on as a result
of this. Will I start receiving notices asking me if I want to
subscribe to *Prison Life* magazine?
Chapter 14: In Which I Go to the Trial "Just In Case".
Although I've been told by Comcast that I don't need to show up in
court on the trial date, I've never received notice from the District
Court about this. And, considering that the last paperwork I received
from the court said "a warrant for your arrest may be issued" if you
don't show up at your trial, I decide it would be best to show up
January 12, 1999: Just when I'm starting to think that Comcast's motto
has been morphed into "Comcast -- Everything You Convict With",
the court appearance is pretty uneventful. I show up at 8:30 along
with about a dozen other people who are involved in other cases in the
same courtroom that morning. According to the list outside the
courtroom, it looks like there are a couple of theft cases and a
couple of drug cases on the schedule. I'm actually starting to look
forward to an interesting morning in court, hearing about all of this
stuff, but the State's Attorney calls my case first. I start walking
up to the Defendant's table, and hear the State's Attorney say that
he's entering a nol pros. I've just reached the table when the judge
says, "your case is dismissed, you're free to go," and so I turn back
around and leave the courtroom.
Chapter 15: In Which The Assembled Readership Gets To Find Out That I
Never Got Sent To Jail, But Just Got Threatened With The Possibility
Sorry to disappoint those of you who were looking forward to hearing
about that part.
I gave the "malicious prosecution" scenario a thought, but I'm not
really a lawsuit kind of person. Unless I find out that Comcast has
been involved in a pattern of cases like these without regard to the
consequences, I don't intend to follow up on filing a malicious
prosecution lawsuit. Besides, if I want to get my criminal record
expunged, it looks like I will need to sign a waiver absolving them of
liability for this incident. I am hoping, however, that Comcast will
reimburse me for the $30 fee involved in getting my record expunged.
Epilogue: Although everyone I dealt with seemed apologetic, and
willing to help get this fairly outrageous situation taken care of, I
believe that there are still some problems that Comcast and @Home
management need to address. For that reason, I decided to write to the
Presidents of both companies, and ask them to respond to several
A copy of Ms. Sammel's letter to Comcast officials is on our
web site http://telecom-digest.org and more details of this case. It
all makes very fascinating reading. So if you are even thinking about
signing up with Comcast for cable modem service, it might not hurt to
think again after you read this entire report.