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SACRAMENTO — After waging expensive fights in several Assembly primary races, it was hard for either plaintiffs lawyers or their opponents to claim victory in Tuesday’s election. Plaintiffs lawyers were heavily invested in five races across the state. Of those, their candidates prevailed in only two districts; Noreen Evans won in Santa Rosa, and Tom Umberg took Santa Ana. But candidates backed by plaintiffs lawyers lost in Fremont, Chula Vista and in the tightest race, Palo Alto. That’s where John Carcione, son of heavyweight plaintiffs lawyer Joseph Carcione Jr., appeared to lose by only 342 votes to union-backed Ira Ruskin. James Sturdevant, president of Consumer Attorneys of California, held out hope Wednesday that absentee ballots would go in Carcione’s favor. That counting could take until April 6. Business interests did no better in those races. Although they helped block plaintiffs picks, only one candidate they spent a lot of money on won — Fremont’s Alberto Torrico. In another race, the San Jose Assembly district, Joe Coto, who was also backed by businesses, beat Kathy Chavez Napoli, who received some trial lawyer money. Throughout the election, plaintiffs lawyers made thousands of dollars in direct contributions to candidates. But much of the biggest spending by the lawyers — and their opponents — came in the final days in the form of independent expenditures. Those special contributions made by political action committees are spent on behalf of a candidate and aren’t subject to spending limits. In the month before the election, three committees connected with the Consumer Attorneys spent at least $939,744 in the five races, according to the Secretary of State. In those same races, committees controlled by tort reformers — the Civil Justice Association of California and Moderate Democrats for California — spent at least $733,392. Committees controlled by business interests, which are allied with tort reformers, spent an additional $726,894 in the races. Sturdevant said “overall” his group did well. “Obviously, there are races where I wish we could have done better, but it’s a big state.” Sturdevant, of San Francisco’s Sturdevant Law Firm, said he was especially pleased with Umberg, whom he considers progressive on “consumer, environmental and health care issues.” Umberg will run against a Republican for the seat being vacated by Lou Correa, a moderate Democrat who gave the trial lawyers a lot of grief last year with his proposal to change California’s unfair competition law. Correa is leaving the Assembly because of term limits. On Wednesday, Sturdevant was optimistic about how the Assembly will shape up and said consumer attorneys hoped to meet with candidates the group had opposed. “There’s more commonality with Torrico and Ruskin than there are differences,” he said. John Sullivan, president of the tort reform group Civil Justice Association, used the same phrase as Sturdevant, saying he was happy “overall” with the election returns. Sullivan’s group had sent out press releases in recent days criticizing how much money plaintiffs attorneys were spending on the races. Asked whether he thought that was disingenuous in light of the business community’s spending, Sullivan said those interests aren’t as single-minded as plaintiffs lawyers. “The personal injury lawyer is a super special interest. They’re focused primarily on enhancing their ability to sue,” Sullivan said.

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