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SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Lou Correa finally released his ideas to reform the state unfair competition law Tuesday, and the initial response among stakeholders was a strong sense of d�j� vu. That’s because Correa’s proposal looks like a 1997 reform bill that was killed by a combined lobby of trial lawyers and corporate interests. Not surprisingly, reaction from those groups to Correa’s legislation, AB 69, was similarly negative. Consumer Attorneys of California says it goes too far; tort reformers say it doesn’t do enough. “Until there’s some kind of requirement to have a real plaintiff with real injuries, there’s always going to be a problem with 17200,” said Civil Justice Association of California President John Sullivan, referring to the law by its Business & Professions Code section number. To make his pitch, Correa, a Democrat from Anaheim, enlisted the help of Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law. Fellmeth wrote a support letter for Correa. Fellmeth was instrumental in crafting the 1997 bill, which was sponsored by then-state Sen. Quentin Kopp. Fellmeth said Correa’s bill has about 80 percent in common with Kopp’s proposal, which was written based on a review of 17200 by the California Law Revision Commission. Correa’s proposal mandates court approval of all settlements and includes a requirement that the attorney general and local district attorneys must track suits. Under the proposal defendants cannot be hit multiple times for the same violation, and plaintiffs lawyers must inform defendants of their legal rights. It also prohibits “secret settlements.” Fellmeth expects strong opposition from trial lawyers, who consider 17200 one of their most important tools to combat wrongdoing. Even though the plaintiffs bar may be in favor of many of Correa’s ideas, Fellmeth predicted, it won’t want legislators to tinker with 17200 for fear the bill will be hijacked by tort reformers as it moves through the Legislature. “It should not be controversial. All this bill does is take a few of the due process elements in class action law,” Fellmeth said. “This is apple pie and mother. This is not some nefarious plot that was drafted by the competition.” Trial lawyers’ resistance is misplaced, Fellmeth contends. If they don’t get on board, the courts are going to dismantle 17200 piece by piece, he said. But Consumer Attorneys President Bruce Brusavich said things aren’t that bad in the courts and called many of Correa’s suggestions “unnecessary.” And Brusavich has already said he is looking for 17200 reform to come — if at all — from the Assembly and Senate judiciary committees. Correa does not belong to the Assembly committee. He drafted AB 69 after small businesses in his Orange County district were hit with 17200 suits that Correa said were tantamount to “extortion.” Assembly Judiciary has not put language into its spot bill on 17200. And Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Montebello, head of the Senate Judiciary, has yet to include substantive language in a bill she’s carrying. Legislators on both committees said they’re waiting to see what regulators do with alleged 17200 abuses. This year’s reform push was kicked off by an investigation into the practices of several California plaintiffs firms, who were suing large groups of defendants and then using 17200 to leverage settlements. Attorneys at one firm, the Trevor Law Group of Beverly Hills, already face disbarment and a lawsuit from Attorney General Bill Lockyer because of alleged frivolous suits and unethical behavior. The firm says it has done nothing wrong. Fellmeth said those actions are a short-term solution, that “smarter lawyers” could perpetrate “the same abuses of multiple lawsuits and compelled settlements” unless the law is changed.

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