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Trial lawyers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last days of the recall campaign to stave off what they believe will be a disaster for their practices if Republicans take over the governor’s office. In the past few weeks, the powerful lobby has met its goal of giving Gov. Gray Davis $1 million to fight the Oct. 7 recall, said Bruce Brusavich, president of Consumer Attorneys of California. According to campaign finance data , the attorneys are approaching a similar figure for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is the only major Democrat running to replace Davis. Although the plaintiffs bar has been a steady friend to the current administration, part of the recent giving appears to be motivated more by fear than loyalty. Some plaintiffs lawyers say they’re not thrilled with Davis; they just think Republican recall candidates Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock would be even worse for their practices. That’s the sentiment from Oakland asbestos shop Kazan, McClain, Edises, Abrams, Fernandez, Lyons & Farrise. With at least $100,000 to Davis’ anti-recall committee and at least $21,200 to Bustamante, the East Bay attorneys are among the most generous contributors. Even so, the firm is not overflowing with love. Since Davis became governor, “I have been known to say that I can’t wait to see a Democrat in office,” said partner Steven Kazan, referring to the common refrain that Davis is not liberal enough. Kazan said his firm didn’t give to Davis’ 2002 re-election campaign. Now, however, Kazan and his colleagues want to keep Republicans from taking over California. “We feel very strongly that [Davis] won the election fair and square. I detect Karl Rove’s fingerprints” all over the recall, he said, referring to President Bush’s top political adviser. Republicans have denied that the White House had anything to do with the recall. Even without that conspiracy theory, trial lawyers have plenty of other reasons to be worried about a Republican taking office, said Brusavich, a partner at Torrance-based Agnew & Brusavich. For years, Republicans have targeted trial lawyers, saying lawsuits are bad for business and criticizing the well-organized lobby as a special interest because of its substantial fund-raising clout. Recently, slamming the plaintiffs bar has become even more popular as President Bush has spoken in favor of tort reform, especially in medical malpractice. In California, the main focus of the recall has been the business climate in the state. Democrats blame the state deficit and tough times on Bush and other factors they say Davis can’t control. Republicans don’t buy that and say out-of-control litigation and skyrocketing workers’ compensation suits are more to blame. They believe state leaders should do more to rein in the influence of the trial lawyers. Along those lines, both McClintock and Schwarzenegger have proposed significant changes to the tort system. “One of the major initiatives that I will be introducing will be a general measure to restore our civil courts to the simple process of compensating victims of torts and move all the punitive damages into the criminal courts where they belong, or at least apply a criminal justice standard to them,” the senator said during a Sept. 24 debate. For his purposes, Brusavich is more worried about Schwarzenegger because of the actor’s recently increased popularity in the polls. Schwarzenegger has joined the chorus of Republicans — and some Democrats — in the state legislature to modify California’s unfair competition law, Business & Professions Code � 17200, to make it harder for plaintiffs to file private attorney general suits. Schwarzenegger also wants to end California’s “litigation lottery,” according to his Web site, www.joinarnold.com. “Frivolous lawsuits cost every man, woman and child in California approximately $1,200 per year in added costs for goods and services,” the site says. Besides tort reform, Brusavich is also concerned about whom Schwarzenegger would nominate to the state bench. “I think we would be back to the era of [former Gov. Pete] Wilson, with old, white men being appointed to the bench,” Brusavich said. Wilson and several members of his administration are advising Schwarzenegger’s campaign. Brusavich has continued this week working the phones to persuade trial lawyers to donate to Davis and Bustamante. When the recall was first gaining ground, the CAOC promised to raise $250,000 for Davis, which Brusavich said might go to cover litigation expenses. Since then, the Davis campaign has asked for $1 million, which Brusavich said he has obliged. Unlike other organizations, which round up donations into political action committees and then give in big chunks, the CAOC coordinates individual donations from hundreds of members statewide. The Recorder took a snapshot of donations to Davis’ main anti-recall committee, Californians Against the Costly Recall, and to the lieutenant governor’s Yes for Bustamante. Bustamante has three other committees related to the election. Davis has two. Between Aug. 12 and Sept. 20, the Davis committee took in at least $478,150 from trial lawyers. Total contributions from all sources for that period were $6,983,531. By comparison, plaintiffs lawyers accounted for at least $411,900 of Bustamante’s $3,395,756 take. Since that reporting period ended, trial lawyer contributions to the lieutenant governor have surged. In the last 10 days of September, trial lawyers gave Bustamante an additional $283,315. Davis received $128,500 in the last 10 days of the month from the plaintiffs bar. Most contributors gave to either Davis or Bustamante, but a handful gave to both. Some plaintiffs lawyers have also given to Schwarzenegger’s campaign, Brusavich said. He said those donations were small compared with the amounts Democrats are receiving and were from the small minority of CAOC members who are Republicans. “I’ve not seen any Democrats or progressives or liberals or independents giving to Schwarzenegger or McClintock,” Brusa�vich said. Brusavich said the increase in donations to Bustamante does not indicate that the trial lawyers believe Davis will be ousted. Rather, the lawyers are just trying to be “smart in making our decisions.” When making his pitch to donate, Brusavich said he points to Davis’ appointment of several trial lawyers to the bench and his signatures on “consumer-friendly” legislation. Brusavich said he hadn’t encountered complaints about Davis like those put forth by Kazan, the Oakland asbestos attorney. Like Kazan, other East Bay trial attorneys are more upset by the idea of a recall than they are shedding tears for Davis. “I thought that it was all brought home by Mr. [Darrell] Issa saying that if a Republican can’t win, vote no,” on the recall, said Peter Hinton, a partner at Walnut Creek’s Hinton, Alfert & Sumner, and past president of CAOC. He said his firm plans to kick in money to keep Davis in office, although no contribution had been recorded by late Thursday.

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