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During a last-minute consideration of bills this weekend, lame duck Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a proposal banning pre-employment arbitration contracts. Sunday was the last day for Davis to take action on dozens of bills passed by the Legislature. The arbitration bill was similar to a proposal Davis had vetoed last year. It would have prohibited employers from forcing new hires to agree to settle disputes in arbitration. The governor gave the same reason he gave last year, that the bill would be bad for businesses. But Davis also signed new laws this weekend governing the statute of limitations in toxic torts, creating a private cause of action for employment law disputes, and granting Attorney General Bill Lockyer the same enforcement power over securities violations as the California Department of Corporations. Although he was disappointed about the arbitration bill, Bruce Brusavich, president of Consumer Attorneys of California, pointed to the toxic torts bill and others and said 2003 was a “phenomenal” legislative year for trial lawyers. All the bills sponsored by the CAOC that went to Davis were signed into law, Brusavich said. The toxic torts measure, which codifies existing case law, was initially opposed by businesses and tort reformers who said the trial lawyers were trying to extend the statute of limitations. They removed their opposition when the bill was amended in August to resolve what Brusavich, of Torrance-based Agnew & Brusavich, described as “semantic” differences. The trial lawyers also scored with the bill creating a private cause of action for labor law violations, which was carried by Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove. Dunn is a former partner at Newport Beach plaintiffs firm Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson and plans to run for attorney general in 2006. Although the CAOC did not sponsor the bill — it was actually floated by labor unions — trial lawyers support the measure. Republicans compared the bill to the state’s unfair competition law, Business and Professions Code § 17200, and warned that creating the opportunity for more lawsuits is bad for business. As for the bill sponsored by the attorney general, some securities industry lawyers saw the move as a “power grab” by Lockyer, although they did not mount substantial opposition to the proposal. Lockyer’s office said the bill will only strengthen the state’s ability to fight securities fraud. The Department of Corporations’ ability to investigate fraud allegations was diminished this year by budget cuts that reduced the number of investigators working in the office.

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