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Ellen Corbett, former chairwoman of the California Assembly Judiciary Committee, has gone to work for one of her main allies in the fight against tort reform, San Francisco’s Sturdevant Law Firm. Firm founder James Sturdevant was president of Consumer Attorneys of California in 2004, Corbett’s last year in the Assembly. Under Corbett, the Judiciary Committee was ground zero for several battles between business interests and the plaintiff bar, including the fight over changing California’s unfair competition law. Trial lawyers lost that struggle when voters in November passed Proposition 64, which took away private plaintiff lawyers’ ability to sue for alleged wrongs on behalf of the public. Corbett, a Democrat who represented the San Leandro area, was termed out when the last legislative session ended in September, but is currently raising money to run for state Senate in 2006. Corbett will serve as of counsel at Sturdevant’s five-lawyer firm and will have a variety of duties, including working cases and providing advice on possible legislative solutions to consumer troubles, Sturdevant said. “Ellen is a very articulate, savvy person,” he said, adding that her work in the Legislature has given her broad knowledge on a variety of issues, including consumer protection, employment discrimination and other topics relevant to plaintiff work. The firm handles a range of cases. Last year, the CAOC named Sturdevant and two other lawyers as litigators of the year for a $1.6 billion preliminary judgment against Bank of America on behalf of customers who had had bounced-check fees deducted from Social Security money in their accounts. Corbett was one of a handful of lawyers in the state Legislature. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is traditionally chaired by an attorney, and it’s not unusual for former chairs to go into private practice once they leave. Corbett, who attended McGeorge School of Law at University of the Pacific and got her bar card in 1987, comes from a family of lawyers. Her father, the late William Corbett, practiced in San Leandro. And she used to work with her brother, Kevin Corbett, in his probate, real estate and family practice in the East Bay. Corbett’s younger sister, Mary, recently attended law school and plans to take the bar in July so she can practice at her brother’s firm, too. Ellen Corbett was with her brother’s firm while she was on the San Leandro City Council and was mayor of the city. She was elected to the Assembly in 1998. John Sullivan, president of the pro-tort reform Civil Justice Association of California and a frequent critic of the close relationship between the plaintiff bar and Democrats, laughed when he heard Corbett was going to work with Sturdevant, calling it “par for the course.” But Sturdevant said that if the plaintiff bar had the kind of control over the Legislature that critics allege, it would have passed a legislative solution to the problems with the unfair competition law rather than see the proposal go before voters. Corbett, who did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday, has never made excuses about her relationship with the plaintiff bar, saying what they do jibes with her political philosophy.

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