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Opening another front in the battle to modify the state unfair competition statute, trial lawyers this week threw their support behind an Assembly bill targeting car dealers, who are among the most vocal advocates of changing the law. John Sullivan, president of the tort reform group Civil Justice Association of California, accused the plaintiffs bar of using the Assembly bill as leverage in the fight over the unfair competition law, Business & Professions Code �17200. “It seems like part of their usual pattern of attempted intimidation and harassment,” Sullivan said. In response, the president of Consumer Attorneys of California, James Sturdevant of San Francisco, said his group’s support of the car-dealer bill was “completely unrelated” to the fight over the unfair competition law. The CAOC supports the bill simply because it’s good public policy, said Sturdevant, whose Sturdevant Law Firm is listed as a supporter alongside the CAOC and other consumer groups. AB 1839, by Assemblywoman Cindy Monta�ez, D-San Fernando, would create a car buyer’s bill of rights. Its provisions include restricting dealers from profiting from securing loans for consumers. It also creates a three-day cooling-off period during which consumers can return a vehicle and creates standards for what can be dubbed a “certified” used car. Brian Maas, lobbyist for the California Motor Car Dealers Association, said the loan provision would have a “devastating effect on the vehicle financing market” and would put many dealers out of business. Sullivan’s accusations stem from the fact that the CAOC is currently negotiating with car dealers to try to craft a legislative compromise over 17200. If the negotiations fail, business groups say they will take the fight directly to voters with a November ballot initiative. They have stopped collecting signatures for the initiative and say they have enough to qualify, but Sullivan declined to give an exact number. He said they will turn the petitions over to the Secretary of State on April 16, and lawmakers have until then to come up with a legislative solution. Car dealers and other businesses claim plaintiffs attorneys abuse 17200, while the plaintiffs bar calls the law the backbone of consumer protection in California. Monta�ez also said there wasn’t any connection between her bill and 17200. Rather, she became interested in dealer practices after receiving complaints from people in her district. “I don’t know why [Sullivan] would want to connect the two issues,” Monta�ez said. Several of the bill’s provisions were first floated as a ballot initiative several weeks ago by a consumer group called Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. The CAOC had helped craft the initiative language and supported the measure. But that initiative has been dropped and Monta�ez �s bill is moving through the Legislature. It passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday on a 6-3 vote. Sturdevant said his group’s support of the bill was not intended to pressure the car dealers. It’s not unusual to see the same subjects covered in legislation and in initiatives, nor is it rare to meet the same opponents over and over again in Sacramento, he said. Sturdevant said he was not concerned about how his support for the bill might affect negotiations with the dealers over 17200. Rosemary Shahan, president of the car consumers group, also said she wasn’t worried about the bill getting tripped up because of the fight over 17200. “Who knows what everybody’s agenda is? I’ve been wanting to do this law for 20 years.”

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