Tort Reform Advocacy Group Changes Name, Angering Opponents

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Metropolitan News Service

Sacramento– The Association for California Tort Reform announced yesterday that it has changed its name to the Civil Justice Association of California to more accurately reflect its advocacy goals.

A rival group, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, quickly protested the name change, contending that the new moniker is too close to “Californians for Civil Justice,” a name used by the foundation.

John H. Sullivan, president of the 20-year-old tort reform group, said his organization has expanded its scope in recent years “beyond tort law and to cope with the increasing influence of contingency fee lawyers and their political agenda.”

“Our new name more accurately reflects our broad mission as an organization that performs credible, quality advocacy, research, and appellate work to benefit our members and the general public,” Sullivan said.

Among the association’s current goals is to enact laws to reduce litigation over construction issues, to enact “responsible” laws dealing with liability for Y2K computer problems, and to block legislative efforts to increase the liability of health care entities and executives.

Doug Heller, a spokesman for Californians for Civil Justice, said the name change would mislead the public.

“The Association for California Tort Reform has the primary political purpose of closing the courthouse doors to the civil justice system,” Heller said. “It shouldn’t be given the privilege of purportedly fighting for the system they work to undermine; we would not let the liquor lobby buy the name ‘MADD’ [Mothers Against Drunk Drivers].”

An attorney with Heller’s organization has asked the secretary of state, who has the authority to block corporate name changes deemed misleading or too similar to existing names, to refuse to approve the tort-reformers’ change.

Alfie Charles, spokesman for Secretary of State Bill Jones, said the name change was approved when Sullivan filed the appropriate documents in mid-April, so the dispute ironically could lead to another suit being filed in civil court.

“If they want to challenge it, they’d have to do it in court at this point,” Charles said.

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