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For the Consumer Attorneys of California, this year’s legislative session ended as it always does — with a series of tense cell phone calls in the rotunda outside the Senate and Assembly chambers. During those calls, CAOC President Bruce Brusavich and his team of lobbyists sorted through the complex equations that drive the strategy behind passing a bill. They explained minutiae to lawmakers’ staff and, more than anything, tried to get a few minutes with busy legislators. “It’s a different kind of sausage factory — it’s not pretty to watch,” Brusavich said between phone calls Thursday. The session, which ended Friday, closed with mixed results for the trial lawyers. They failed in a last-minute attempt to modify state law on medical liens. And the measure they backed to change the state unfair competition statute continued to face harsh opposition among Republicans and moderate Democrats. That proposal, SB 122 by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, was eligible for another vote late Friday after press time. Despite those setbacks, Gov. Gray Davis has already signed several trial lawyer measures, including a prohibition on secret settlements in elder abuse cases and a measure designed to prevent abuse of California’s anti-SLAPP law. And more perks for the plaintiffs bar are on Davis’ desk. During the final week of its session, the Legislature approved a bill that makes employers responsible for sexual harassment by non-employees, one that gives a private cause of action in labor cases, and another that modifies how the statute of limitations in toxic tort cases is calculated. Although opponents around the Capitol say the beleaguered governor will sign just about anything before the recall, his handlers say the recall won’t influence policy decisions. For his part, Brusavich is confident Davis will approve the consumer attorneys’ measures. The trial lawyers have strongly supported the governor over the years and continue to help him as he fights to remain in office. On at least one break from long hours spent lobbying, Brusavich said he returned to the CAOC office to do some fund raising to help the anti-recall effort. The trial lawyers have pledged $500,000 to help Davis. They’ve also given to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is trying to replace Davis. Consumer attorney bills aren’t the only lawyer-centric legislation awaiting Davis’ signature. Among the dozens of other bills is a measure sponsored by Attorney General Bill Lockyer that would give his office the power to prosecute securities violations. Because the state Department of Corporations already polices securities, some industry lawyers characterized the bill as a “power grab” by Lockyer. Even so, they did not organize substantial opposition to stop the bill. “He didn’t sponsor this bill to feather his political nest. He sponsored it to protect the interests of Californians and to strengthen the state’s ability to prosecute securities fraud,” said Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar. Earlier in the year, the Department of Corporations had concerns about the bill, Dresslar said, but Lockyer’s office worked to address any problems and “they told us they were OK with the bill.” Davis’ office did not return calls seeking comment about the governor’s position on the measure. Dresslar said Lockyer was hopeful Davis would sign. The governor has until Oct. 12 to decide on bills passed during the final weeks of the legislative session. Last week was beyond hectic inside the Capitol. Besides CAOC representatives, dozens of other lobbyists, who are banned from the Assembly and Senate floors, crowded the rotunda and surrounding hallways until late at night, eagerly watching legislative sessions on television screens and sending in their business cards to try to get lawmakers’ attention. In particular, business interests and labor lobbyists leaned on lawmakers as they worked on major changes to worker’s compensation and health insurance. For the trial lawyers, much of the excitement came Thursday, during an Assembly session that lasted until 11:30 p.m. First, Republicans excoriated them on the Assembly floor over SB 796, the bill giving a private cause of action in labor cases. The CAOC said that criticism was misplaced because it did not sponsor the measure. In fact, when asked about it, Brusavich said he didn’t even recognize the bill number. The bill was carried by Democratic Sen. Joseph Dunn, a former trial lawyer from Garden Grove, and sponsored by the California Labor Federation, which this year has been closely allied with the trial lawyers. The measure looked like it was going to fail until late at night, when Assemblyman Lou Correa, a moderate Democrat from Orange County, added his vote. Correa came on board just minutes after a meeting with top trial lawyer lobbyist Donald Green of Sacramento’s Green & Azevedo. CAOC spokeswoman Shelly Sullivan said Green wasn’t lobbying for SB 796, and Correa said Green did not mention it during their meeting. Correa had also voted for the bill when it was still in committee. Rather, it’s more likely Green and Correa discussed another bill, SB 122, the measure to modify the state unfair competition law, Business and Professions Code � 17200. Earlier this year, Correa was the first Democrat to propose modifying 17200 after thousands of small businesses in his district were sued by attorneys accused of abusing the statute. Correa’s proposal was killed in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, who is closely aligned with the trial lawyers. Correa has opposed the measure, saying it does not go far enough in reforming the law, but would not say whether Green had convinced him to cut some sort of deal. The CAOC has fiercely lobbied SB 122. Thursday, the measure failed three times to get enough votes, even with Corbett, Escutia and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, trying to convince their colleagues to come aboard. Lobbying over the proposal kept the CAOC lobbyists’ phones buzzing through Friday, but by late afternoon, Brusavich still wasn’t able to get enough votes.

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