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It’s hard to find people willing to trash Attorney General Bill Lockyer these days. When he was elected four years ago, Lockyer was — conservatives thought — about to turn the AG’s office into a laboratory for liberal experimentation. But even his critics are saying that Lockyer has transformed himself from liberal state legislator to a centrist who has honed the kind of New Democrat, something-for-everybody style that has helped others, including Gov. Gray Davis, be so successful. For his part, Lockyer resists interpreting his approach as AG as centrist, just as he resists the “liberal” label from his days in the Legislature. “[The AG's office] is really nonpolitical, and I like that. It’s very refreshing. It’s almost like being liberated from the old partisan environment,” Lockyer said. Still, he has scored points on the left and the right. By increasing consumer advocacy and civil rights work, he has pleased longtime liberal backers. And he has curried favor with conservatives by making the office more accessible to prosecutors and not doing anything too controversial against major California businesses. He’s also scored points with his 1,100-attorney staff — mostly by improving communication in the office, which Lockyer says runs mostly from the bottom up anyway. Lockyer’s political maneuvering has produced a 2002 AG’s race that is so unremarkable that people are already looking past Nov. 5 — when Lockyer is expected to trounce his Republican challenger, Orange County Sen. Dick Ackerman — past another four years in the AG’s office, to 2006, when a termed-out Lockyer is expected to try for the governor’s office. The attorney general is “a good stepping-stone office. If you get into the newspapers, it’s [usually] for doing something good,” said Tony Quinn, a political analyst who worked for Attorney General Evelle Younger in the 1970s. Quinn, a Republican, said he is surprised that Lockyer has done so well in the office, especially because he came from such a partisan background. Quinn predicts Lockyer would follow other attorneys general before him and run for governor. “The attorney general, without any doubt, starts out as the favorite for his party’s nomination,” he said. When asked the governor question in a recent interview, Lockyer said, “I don’t know.” MONEY, MONEY, MONEY If he doesn’t run for governor, Lockyer will have to figure out what else to do with his $7.7 million war chest, which he’s barely tapped in the race against Ackerman. He’s taken in $5.9 million in just the past two years, and if he keeps fund raising at that rate, he’ll have nearly $20 million in 2006. Lockyer counts among his largest contributors mainstays of Democratic power: labor groups and plaintiffs attorneys. While Consumer Attorneys of California — which lobbies on the plaintiffs bar’s behalf in Sacramento — has given him $14,100 in the past two years, the big money has come from the plaintiffs firms themselves. In the current election cycle, Girardi and Keese lawyers gave $150,482, attorneys at Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson gave $115,000, and lawyers associated with Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy gave $71,962. “He’s been, in my mind, the best attorney general that I can recall the state having in my adult life,” said Robert Cartwright Jr., president of Consumer Attorneys and a solo practitioner in San Francisco. Cartwright notes many of the same accomplishments Lockyer himself lists — dozens of lawsuits and millions of dollars in settlements on behalf of consumers. And while some have criticized Lockyer for not fully embracing his role as “top cop,” as his predecessor did, Cartwright said “top litigator” is just as important. “Where he has excelled is in other types of illegal crimes that otherwise might go unpunished,” Cartwright said. TIGHTENING PROP 65 Lockyer’s challenger, Ackerman, has seized on his opponent’s favoring of lawsuits over handcuffs. He says Lockyer is wasting taxpayer money by going after so many businesses and should have devoted himself to lowering California’s crime rate, which, according to Ackerman, has risen since 2000. Ackerman’s claims notwithstanding, Lockyer has managed to avoid unduly angering business interests. “He’s not pro-business, but he doesn’t go out of the way to stick his finger in people’s eyes,” said Fred Main, senior vice president and general counsel for the California Chamber of Commerce. Main did agree with one of Ackerman’s specific criticisms, that Lockyer has been too zealous with the state’s antitrust case against Microsoft. Main said his group has not taken a position that the litigation is right or wrong; the chamber just thinks it’s gone on too long. But even that has not made Lockyer many enemies. After all, Microsoft is based in Washington state, and several high-tech players in California would benefit if the software giant is taken down a notch. Main also said Lockyer has done a couple of things to make nice with California businesses. Most notably, the AG backed a bill that limits lawsuits filed under Proposition 65, the law that requires businesses and property owners to post warning signs about cancer-causing chemicals. Main said Lockyer recently has expressed “openness” about restricting lawsuits that are filed under Business & Professions Code § 17200, which businesses and defense counsel say has been abused by plaintiffs attorneys. In fact, Lockyer is scheduled to discuss § 17200 at a meeting with the Civil Justice Association of California, a defense-side tort reform group, in November, assuming he prevails in the election. Lockyer said tinkering with the statute, though, would be a major undertaking, and he would probably start with surveys in counties such as Santa Clara, Sacramento and Los Angeles to see what sort of litigation is being filed. “There seems to be a legitimate complaint that there’s over breadth in the use of § 17200 claims, and so we want to sharpen if possible the doctrine to have it apply in meritorious cases and get rid of some of the junk,” he said. Despite his moves against Prop 65 suits and possible tinkering with § 17200, the plaintiffs bar is still gushing and handing over large amounts of cash, something that might make plaintiffs adversaries unhappy — or at least worried. If they are, though, they aren’t coming right out with it. Raymond Coates, a partner with Low, Ball & Lynch in San Francisco and incoming president of the California Defense Counsel, said Lockyer has been “fairly down the middle.” John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association, was a little more critical, although not by much: “I think [Lockyer has] gotten involved in some legal issues that I don’t think he’s fully thought through.” Sullivan was referring to SB 11 and AB 36, the so-called “secret settlement” bills that were killed earlier this legislative session but are expected to reappear next year. Although Lockyer testified on the bills’ behalf, he wasn’t optimistic about the issue coming up again: “After so many efforts that were unsuccessful, I’m inclined to think it’s not going to go anywhere.” Lockyer said business interests would probably want significant changes in other laws to compensate for the damage of secret-settlement legislation, “and I don’t think the plaintiffs bar has any intention of working some package like that.” WOOING PROSECUTORS For evidence of Lockyer’s success in winning over former opponents, consider the list of people who have endorsed his reelection. In the 1998 race, he had the endorsements of only 10 of the state’s 58 district attorneys. This go-around, he has the backing of at least 35. One of those is Riverside DA Grover Trask. A Republican who is about to start his sixth term as top cop of a conservative county, Trask is also former president of the California District Attorneys Association, which butted heads with Lockyer in his previous life. “I would have to say … our experience with Lockyer as Senate pro tem, he was a liberal Democrat and didn’t support what CDAA [wanted],” Trask said. Trask stood behind David Stirling, who was AG Lungren’s right-hand man, in 1998. When Stirling lost, Trask said he and a lot of other district attorneys were “skeptical” of what Lockyer might do with the office. Instead, the former senator surprised them. From his first meetings with the district attorneys, Lockyer was a “straight shooter” who told them he understood that he was not the expert, that it wasn’t his place to create policies outside the law, Trask said. Instead of pursing a stereotypical, soft-on-crime liberal agenda, Trask said Lockyer beefed up the state’s DNA database and other crime lab technology that helps prosecutors. “He has put his money where his mouth is,” Trask said, adding that he is especially pleased Lockyer’s office established a new crime lab to serve Riverside and Imperial counties. Trask, however, said Lockyer has not taken a strong enough position when California death penalty cases enter the federal court system. He also wants Lockyer to devote more resources to those cases, especially when they hit the federal court system. He’d like Lockyer to explore using his influence to change federal legislation to reduce prisoners’ ability to appeal death sentences. Lockyer isn’t convinced that that legislation is the way to go. He said it might be more a matter of working through the “philosophical roadblocks” of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. His deputies would do that by continuing to take cases up the ladder. “Eventually, [Ninth Circuit judges] have to respect the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents,” Lockyer said. State Public Defender Lynne Coffin said that although Lockyer has done “tremendous good” in some areas, he has retained some of the worst parts of his predecessor’s administration when it comes to the death penalty. “I think that Bill Lockyer, in terms of the death penalty, has carried on the policies of Dan Lungren, and I am disappointed in that,” Coffin said. Lockyer could have allowed his deputies to make deals on certain cases up for review, ones where there is clearly misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel. Instead, “they will not negotiate anything, ever,” she said. Lockyer said the death penalty is a good example of why he doesn’t like being put in the “liberal” camp. “People who thought somehow, Lockyer, here, who has always supported the death penalty and is tough on crime, was suddenly going to switch sides in the criminal justice fights … that’s partly why the labels don’t make any sense to me,” he said. His support for the death penalty notwithstanding, some Sacramento insiders might be surprised that someone like Trask would call Lockyer a good listener. As a legislator, he had a reputation for occasional outbursts — something Lockyer acknowledges as “early career temper.” Lockyer said he curbed that temper when he was a senator. Now, as AG, he has a reputation for being easy to approach, according to staff members. For one thing, he leaves open the two doors that lead to his office on the top floor of the Department of Justice’s headquarters in Sacramento, a break from the habits of his predecessor. “He is an attorney general who has increased communication between [his office] and employees more than I have ever seen before,” said Adrianne Denault, a deputy attorney general in the San Diego office who is also president of the California Association of Deputy Attorneys General. That group represents the majority of attorneys and advocates on their behalf for working conditions, except salaries. Lockyer is also helped by the fact that he’s been a politician for most of his adult life. Born in Oakland in 1941, Lockyer first took office in 1968, when he became a school board member in San Leandro. At that same time, he was employed as a legislative aide for Alameda Assemblyman Robert Crown. In 1973, a vehicle hit and killed Crown while he was jogging. Lockyer ran for his boss’s seat (something he said makes him feel guilty sometimes) and then served in the Assembly until 1982, when he moved over to the Senate. He chaired the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee for nine years and served as president pro tem from 1994 to 1998. He earned his McGeorge School of Law degree at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento while serving as a senator, and practiced law with a Hayward firm. He’s been divorced twice and has one daughter, Lisa, who is a lawyer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In person, Lockyer is far from blustery these days, but isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy, either. When making a speech, he uses only a few notes, if anything, as a guide. He cracks jokes and will even ham it up for non-media cameras. After a speech earlier this month to the State Bar in Monterey, an audience member asked whether he was going to run for governor. Lockyer feigned bashfulness and said, “Are there any other questions?” before talking about the Anaheim Angels’ playoff games. But there’s an air of aloofness about him, too. While he doesn’t seem as stiff as Gray Davis, he does give off an air of impatience. Lockyer doesn’t like being compared to Davis. He said he makes an effort to be genuine and warm at public events, something Davis still can’t seem to pull off. Lockyer said he gets along “fine” with Davis, whom he’s known for 30 years, but that they really don’t interact too much. Earlier this year, Lockyer got caught up in the contract flap over Oracle Corp. and its contributions to Davis. After beginning an investigation into the matter, Lockyer returned $50,000 to the software company — the only time, he said with a laugh, when he “raised more money from a business group than Gray did, and I get sucked into his vortex.” Even with his sizeable campaign funds and centrist politics, Lockyer has avoided the money-for-favors allegations that have plagued Davis. The issue has created a level of scrutiny that could easily follow the next person to take the state’s highest office. Asked how the money he’s raised affects what he does, Lockyer said: “I hope not at all. I really make an effort to try to overcompensate.” Lockyer said he’s not consciously trying to be middle of the road. He contends that he’s just doing the job. “The sort of art in politics and government generally is to figure out when private interests and public goods are congruent, and if they are, hooray,” Lockyer said. “But I’m just kicking the can down the road.”

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