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Lawyers accused of abusing California’s unfair competition law could soon learn how it feels to be at the wrong end of a � 17200 action themselves, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Tuesday. At a legislative hearing held to discuss reforming the statute, the state’s top prosecutor said his office had subpoenaed the records of attorneys accused of using the unfair competition law to extort money from small businesses. If investigators find evidence of abuse, Lockyer said, the next step would be filing civil suits against the lawyers based on the law itself, Business & Professions Code � 17200. “Obviously, I share your concerns about the abuse of process that seems to be occurring,” Lockyer told the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees, which met jointly to explore changes to the code. Giving the attorneys their own dose of � 17200 would be “ironic justice,” he said. Although several legislators have proposed changing the law, Lockyer’s move is yet another example of his lead role in this year’s reform push. If he does file actions against the attorneys, he could use his own investigation to demonstrate that the statute should not be gutted, a fear held by the plaintiffs bar. “One of the hoped-for effects of us aggressively pursuing this investigation is that people are reminded of what the proper purpose of � 17200 is, which is to protect consumers and small businesses from unlawful practices,” said Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar. Two of the attorneys accused of filing the frivolous suits also addressed the committees. Shane Han and Allan Hendrickson of the Trevor Law Group in Beverly Hills defended their practice under harsh questioning from committee members. The Trevor firm has filed � 17200 suits against thousands of defendants, including scores of auto repair shops and restaurants. Most of the suits are based on technical violations reported by state regulators. The firm sues and then offers to settle claims. The AG and legislators liken their practice to extortion. But Han said the suits were designed to “even the playing field” for consumers. As an example, he mentioned his firm’s suits over auto-dealer advertising. “The fraud that is enacted on consumers as a result of these technical violations [is] very real,” Han said. Critics have complained that the suits are the worst example of the power of � 17200, which allows a claim even when no one has been injured. Han, however, said his firm targets industrywide harm. Legislators didn’t buy it. “You’re nothing but a couple of two-bit legal whores looking for the legal cashola,” said Republican Sen. Bill Morrow of Carlsbad. Besides the Trevor group, AG investigators subpoenaed four other attorneys in Southern California and Sacramento, as well as consumer groups linked to the attorneys that are used as plaintiffs. So far, the lawyers have said they’ll cooperate with the subpoenas, according to the AG’s office. Although none has turned over documents, the Trevor group promised to produce them today, said Dresslar of the AG’s office. Several weeks ago, Lockyer also asked the state Bar to investigate the Trevor firm. Damian Trevor, who runs the firm with partners Han and Hendrickson, would not comment on the subpoenas, except to say that all “real issues” would be dealt with once the cases brought by his firm went to trial. Legislators seemed especially offended by the Trevor firm’s business relationship with the plaintiff in several of its cases, a company called Consumer Enforcement Watch Corp. Although Lockyer’s office had characterized the corporation as a nonprofit, attorney Han said it was actually a for-profit venture run by an acquaintance of his from law school named Ron Jamal. Han, Hendrickson, Jamal and others under investigation all attended Fullerton’s Western State University College of Law, according to public records and Han’s testimony. Trevor attorneys do Consumer Enforcement’s legal work, and the two entities share the settlement proceeds, Han said. When Han refused to give more details about how the settlement money was divided between the firm and Jamal’s venture, Sen. Martha Escutia, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recommended that another hearing be scheduled and subpoenas issued to compel testimony.

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