Oh, the irony

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You may remember the Civil Justice Association of California from decades of attacks on consumer rights such as Proposition 64, the ballot initiative that let companies off the hook under California’s unfair competition law for any harm that is not measured in dollars, like loss of health, environmental damage or consumer deception. Companies used the law to avoid accountability in lawsuits against violating patients’ medical privacy, marketing alcohol to minors and overcharging wireless phone customers.

So I did a double-take when I read about CJAC general counsel Fred Hiestand’s class action lawsuit against a towing company and the city of Sacramento for, get this, towing his car in a no parking zone.

The man whose name is synonymous with tort reform — he’s the Civil Justice Association of California’s general counsel — has filed a class action against the city of Sacramento, Calif., the city’s police chief, city police officers and a tow truck company for towing his car after he left it in a no-parking zone.

What’s more, Hiestand is seeking damages from the tow truck company under Business and Professions Code Section 17200. That, in case you don’t recognize it, is California’s Unfair Competition Law, the very law that CJAC and business groups successfully curbed in 2004 via the voter-approved Proposition 64.

"It’s hysterical," said Timothy Blood, a Coughlin Stoia partner who specializes in UCL suits. "The whole PR campaign during Prop 64 was that 17200 was driving businesses out of California. So what does [Hiestand] do? He sues a small business."

Yep. A lawsuit, against a small business, under the very law that Hiestand targeted for destruction with Proposition 64.

The case may very well have merit — I’m not a lawyer and that’s for a court to decide. But I have no words for these crusaders against lawsuits, who spend their careers trying to limit the public’s access to court and then turn on the drop of a dime when they think they’ve been mistreated. It’s a recurring theme. (See former U.S. Senator Trent Lott’s Katrina lawsuit against State Farm.) Everybody’s lawsuit is frivolous but mine.

Consumer Watchdog
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