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CORREA ATTEMPTS TO CHANGE 17200, AGAIN SACRAMENTO — The Orange County assemblyman who last year unsuccessfully tried to change the state’s unfair competition law is trying again. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, introduced AB 2369 on Thursday. The new proposal is similar to last year’s but goes even further in an attempt to protect businesses from lawsuits that Correa believes are frivolous. The new bill permits sanctions for attorneys who file frivolous actions, allows court-assisted creation of a defendant class and stops lawyers from filing suits based on infractions already enforced by regulatory agencies. Like last year’s bill, it also bans pre-filing settlements, attorney conflicts of interest and requires judicial review of settlements. “This measure is our best chance at fixing a well-intentioned law that is now so broken it has become a threat to our economy,” Correa said in a statement. Correa, who is part of the moderate Democratic caucus that often clashes with liberals in the Assembly, got involved in the debate over the law after thousands of small businesses were sued in his district. Republicans have for years been trying to change the law, Business & Professions Code § 17200, but they were always defeated, mostly because of the influence of trial lawyers. Only since Correa brought some Democrats on board has the game changed. Correa’s bill last year was defeated in the Assembly Judiciary Committee because of continued resistance by the plaintiffs bar. Since then, a coalition of tort reformers and businesses has begun collecting signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot to change the law. Correa hopes that the threat of the initiative — as well as the cooperation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — will give his new bill a boost in the Assembly. — Jeff Chorney PANEL RAPS STEWART JUDGE ON MEDIA ACCESS NEW YORK — The trial judge in the Martha Stewart obstruction case was wrong to exclude the media from jury selection, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday. Overturning Southern District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, the Second Circuit said her decision to bar the media from voir dire violated the First Amendment right of access. That right, the court said, easily outweighed the judge’s concern that the presence of reporters might scare prospective jurors, making them less likely to be open and honest in answering questions and thereby depriving Stewart of her right to a fair trial. “Our national experience instructs us that except in rare circumstances openness preserves, indeed, is essential to, the realization of that right and to public confidence in the administration of justice,” the court said in ABC Inc. v. United States, 04-0220-cr. The opinion, by Judge Robert Katzmann, also dismissed the argument of prosecutors who claimed the decision to bar reporters merely deprived the press of the contemporaneity and the “color and texture” of the proceedings. “But one cannot transcribe an anguished look or a nervous tic,” Judge Katzmann said in the appeals court’s 27-page ruling. — New York Law Journal VIRGINIA SEEKS REVIEW OF RULING ON PRAYER WASHINGTON — The Virginia Supreme Court may decide this week to consider whether the Virginia Military Institute’s longstanding tradition of praying before dinner violates the First Amendment. The VMI case, Bunting v. Mellen, 03-863, involves a challenge to a mealtime custom for most students at the state-operated military college in Lexington, Va. After cadets assemble in the dining hall, announcements are made, and a cadet reads aloud a prayer written by the VMI chaplain. A different prayer is read for each day of the week, except Saturday, when dinner is more casual. Cadets are not obligated to say the prayer, close their eyes or bow their heads, but they must remain standing and silent. The prayers invoke the name of God, and some refer to “Almighty God,” “Father God,” �Heavenly Father,” and “Sovereign God.” Each prayer finishes with “Now O God, we receive this food and share this meal together with thanksgiving. Amen.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed suit on behalf of cadets Neil Mellen and Paul Knick against VMI then-Superintendent Josiah Bunting III. The ACLU contended that forcing students to stand silently for a prayer that invokes God’s name violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and that the courts should not view state-funded higher education any differently than prayer in elementary and secondary schools. The state of Virginia is now asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. — Legal Times

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