Activists rip ballot proposal on suit

Published on

San Bernadino Sun

A coalition of environmental groups Wednesday announced their opposition to a November ballot initiative that would reform the state’s unfair business practices law.

“We are warning California voters as early as possible that this proposition is a sham,” said Bill Magavern, senior legislative representative for Sierra Club California.

The initiative by Californians to Stop Shakedown Lawsuits would require that private attorneys represent a client when they file a lawsuit alleging a violation of the state’s Unfair Competition Law.

Also known as 17200, after its section of the state Business and Professions Code, the 1933 law allows private attorneys to sue on behalf of the public in general to stop deceptive business practices, such as false advertising and price-fixing.

The group, which includes the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Motor Car Dealers Association, among other business interests, contends that the law encourages frivolous lawsuits because it allows attorneys with no clients to sue even if a business did nothing illegal.

“It will take away the bounty hunters who are looking for a quick buck,” said Cliff Cummings, owner of Toyota, Hyundai and Scion dealerships in San Bernardino.

He said the loophole in the law has played a major role in driving business out of California.

Although he has never been a target of one of these lawsuits, Cummings said plenty of local companies have been willing to settle these suits for $10,000 instead of going to court.

“Legitimate victims deserve their day in court,” he said, “but not a fictitious victim that has not been harmed.”

Consumer and environmental groups say the initiative is written to severely limit enforcement of the law.

“Banning community, consumer and environmental groups from suing polluters means companies that violate California’s clean air and water safeguards can continue to harm the environment with impunity,” Michael Schmitz, executive director of the California League for Environmental Enforcement Now, said in a statement.

Magavern said the law has been used to remove lead from drinking-water fixtures and medications and to reduce toxic emissions from industrial facilities.

The initiative would also specify that only an attorney representing the state could take legal action against a business to enforce California’s environmental and consumer-protection laws.

Cindy Wilson, a spokeswoman for Californians to Stop Shakedown Lawsuits in Roseville, Calif., said the group has gathered 650,000 signatures, more than the 411,000 needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.

“We expect to be told in the next few weeks that the initiative qualified for the ballot,” Wilson said.

The signatures have to be certified by June 24, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, urged voters to vote no on the proposition.

“This is a power grab to give the biggest corporations in California a get-out-of-jail-free card under the pretext of helping small businesses,” Court said.

Consumer Watchdog
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