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SACRAMENTO — Corporate lawyers and tort reformers Tuesday continued to deride plaintiffs bar-backed bills to tweak the state’s unfair competition law, but their arguments did little to derail the legislation. A pair of committees appeared ready late Tuesday to pass the two-bill package that would retool portions of the Business and Professions Code � 17200. The package is supported by the Consumer Attorneys of California. Though plaintiffs lawyers argue the bills will protect small businesses from lawsuits filed by unscrupulous attorneys, opponents predicted constitutional challenges and other dire consequences. They say it’s just a scheme to get restitution through disgorgement, the plaintiffs bar tool hobbled by recent state Supreme Court decisions. “This is the worst statute in 20 years for small businesses,” said Michael Brown, a partner at Reed Smith Crosby Heafey in Los Angeles. As witnesses and legislators debated, Attorney General Bill Lockyer clamped down on one of the law firms whose actions triggered the legislative firefight. In Orange County Superior Court, Lockyer filed suit against Brar & Gamulin of Long Beach, alleging its lawyers abused 17200 in filing suits against hundreds of nail salons. Lockyer has made similar accusations against another firm, the Trevor Law Group of Beverly Hills, which he sued in the spring. Trevor responded with an anti-SLAPP motion that is still pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The State Bar has also moved to disbar the three attorneys at Trevor. Bar investigators are also looking at Brar & Gamulin but haven’t filed any charges. Lockyer’s action targets partner Harpreet Brar. He did not return phone calls seeking comment. The other partner, Martin Gamulin, said he did not do any work on the civil cases in question and expects the action eventually would be limited to Brar. “Brar & Gamulin is not so much a law firm as a quick-buck racket that has inflicted financial harm on law-abiding small business owners,” Lockyer said in a press release Tuesday. Although modifying 17200 has been on the Republican agenda in Sacramento for years, the issue finally piqued the interest of the Democrat-controlled Legislature when small businesses complained to politicians’ local offices about the suits by Trevor and other firms. The package put forth by the Consumer Attorneys and their allies consists of AB 95 by Assembly Judiciary Committee leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and SB 122, by Senate judiciary head Martha Escutia, D-Montebello. Tuesday, Corbett heard Escutia’s bill and vice versa. The bills are double-joined and non-severable: For one to become law, they both must pass, and if a court strikes down any provision of one bill, the whole package goes out the window. The Consumer Attorneys say the bills would help prevent 17200 abuses by requiring that plaintiffs inform defendants of their rights and file notice with the State Bar that they’ve filed a 17200 action. The proposal also requires that courts review attorneys fees even if a settlement is reached before a case is filed, prevents defendants from being joined in a suit just because they’re in the same business, and allows plaintiffs to seek restitution through disgorgement. Opponents say none of those provisions would have stopped the mass suits filed by Trevor and other firms. And throughout this year’s debate, defense attorneys who worked on those cases agreed. But in a surprise Tuesday, the Consumer Attorneys brought in one of those defense attorneys, Jeffrey Geren of Encino, to testify on their behalf. Christopher Walker, a Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott lobbyist working on behalf of the Auto Repair Coalition, dismissed Geren’s accolades for the bill, and said the attorney does not represent the perspective of the other defendants. Even more contentious, though, was the issue of disgorgement. That provision took up much of the debate in the Assembly committee, and Walker predicts it will be the reason why the measure will fail on the Assembly floor. Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, Escutia removed the word “disgorgement” from her bill. But she left in the language allowing the plaintiffs bar to obtain that remedy in 17200 actions. The move led some opponents to wonder if Escutia was trying to put one over on them. But during the debate, Escutia and plaintiffs attorneys were more than willing to talk about how the bill restores disgorgement. Brown of Reed Smith painted an ugly picture of disgorgement’s effect on businesses. Attorneys could target businesses for any minor violation, making them liable to shell out all their profits since the violation as punishment, he said. But Consumer Attorneys Vice President Raymond Boucher of Beverly Hills’ Kiesel, Boucher & Larson rejected Brown’s dire predictions. “He tried to portray a parade of horribles that is purely made up of fiction that is designed to inflame” Assembly and Senate members, Boucher said. “It’s clear . . . that he has no faith in courts or judges.”

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