THE LITTLE LAWSUIT THAT COULD

HEY, JUDGE, PUT THAT BLINDFOLD BACK ON!

She and her son did some investigating and learned that the true value of the car-based on the Blue Book-was about $4,000, not $6,795.

About two weeks later, Jeep Eagle salesman Morgan Stanley showed up at Mrs. Lang's home with the Plymouth. She said she didn't want the car, but he told her it was too late for that. Agnes Lang had signed on the dotted line.

Mrs. Lang's son, John-a psychologist-wrote of the experience: "I really had come to believe that the old-time caricatures of ruthless, lying, phony car salesmen were a thing of the past. The dealership is building some very bad karma for itself and for the reputation of car dealers throughout the Valley with this sort of behavior."

Court records in the case include the unsigned affidavit of Michael Viruso, East Valley Jeep Eagle's onetime finance director and general sales manager. ÔJeep Eagle's salesmen regularly represented that the sales price of used cars was comparable to the Blue Book price of that particular vehicle," Viruso wrote, "when in fact the Blue Book price was much lower."

Viruso added that "Jeep Eagle would advise purchasers that it would obtain financing from various financial institutions at the best rate available, when in fact it would receive kickbacks from the financial institutions depending upon the rate of loan it negotiated with the prospective purchaser."

But Judge Riddel, in her crucial September 18 ruling, said a jury wouldn't be allowed to hear Michael Viruso's testimony. That's one of the reasons Lang's attorney, Steven Cheifetz, rushed to the Court of Appeals. Cheifetz's victory at the appellate court, however, may have turned out to be fairly hollow. Court records indicate that Viruso-now living in Iowa-changed his mind about testifying against his former employer.

Agnes Lang still drives the Plymouth she bought from East Valley Jeep Eagle. The dealership claims it has run just fine since it repaired the car and returned it to her in 1989. But Agnes Lang, claiming she was hoodwinked on the car's value and paid at least $2,000 too much, is seeking a minimum of $10,000 in damages.

Judge Riddel's rulings in this case have almost uniformly favored East Valley Jeep Eagle. The rulings' impact on the jury remains uncertain. (There wasn't a verdict by press time.) It's hard to imagine a jury failing to relate to the plight of a woman, now 79, who works part-time at Wendy's to supplement her fixed income.

"I rely on people to be telling me the truth," Agnes Lang says. "I rely on that.

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