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Attorney General Bill Lockyer has stirred up the controversy over California’s unfair competition law by asking the State Bar to investigate two attorneys accused of shaking down small businesses. Bar spokesman E.J. Bernacki confirmed Tuesday that the Bar opened an investigation into the behavior of Damian Trevor and Allan Hendrickson of the Trevor Law Group in Beverly Hills. He said normally such matters are private, but that the Bar went public because the need for “public protection outweighs the necessity for preserving confidentiality.” Neither attorney returned calls seeking comment. A Bar investigator said it received other complaints along with Lockyer’s unusual request. Trevor and Hendrickson are alleged to have targeted small business on behalf of the public, even when there are no easily identifiable damages. Investigators refer to their tactic as “shakedowns” or “extortions” because they get businesses to agree to relatively small settlements in order to get the attorneys off their backs. Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar said the investigation isn’t limited to 17200 issues, that complaints also questioned the attorneys’ competence with civil procedure. The announcement came just days after Santa Ana Assemblyman Lou Correa introduced a bill, AB 69, which would reform the unfair competition law, Business and Professions Code § 17200. The bill is still in the formative stage. A coalition is forming to write the guts of the measure and push it though the 2003-04 legislative session. Lockyer met with defense attorneys and business leaders in November and now is collecting data to determine the scope of the problem. John Sullivan of the Civil Justice Association of California, which leads the reform charge, said there is no “clean, simple, easy fix.” “I think the legislation has got to eliminate the prospect of any attorneys fees for legal actions that don’t do the public any measurable good,” Sullivan said. He would like judges to have a stronger hand early on in 17200 cases, so attorneys cannot “extort” settlements, as Lockyer’s office alleges the bad seeds do now. Sullivan would also like to see reform include the idea of res judicata, so businesses already punished by state-sanctioned regulators don’t get into trouble again with private lawyers acting as attorneys general. Any reform likely will be a tough fight. The powerful consumer attorneys lobby sees little need for change. Robert Cartwright Jr., a San Francisco solo who is past president of Consumer Attorneys of California, said although his group is open to some kind of reform, he’s worried CJAC will take the opportunity to reduce corporate culpability for wrongdoing during a time when accountability needs to be high. “It’s California’s most important consumer protection law. I’m worried about the wholesale gutting of [it],” Cartwright said. “We think problems are minimal.” Dresslar said Lockyer has not decided whether legislation is the correct solution to problems with 17200. Correa has scheduled a fact-finding district hearing in Orange County on Jan. 10. He has invited Sullivan’s and Cartwright’s groups, as well as local businesses.

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