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SACRAMENTO � A tort reform group announced on Tuesday it will launch a program to “monitor the litigation agendas” of Attorney General Bill Lockyer. California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said Lockyer’s “alliance” with trial lawyers has led the state to pursue million-dollar lawsuits against pharmaceuticals, utilities and other major industries. “What we’re concerned about is attorneys general using and abusing the system for their own political agenda,” said CALA spokeswoman Susan Bitar. A Lockyer spokesman called CALA’s accusations “beyond ridiculous” and inspired by the group’s corporate supporters. “It’s a figment of the collective imagination of the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse,” said Tom Dresslar. CALA announced its campaign after an afternoon debate, sponsored by the Federalist Society of Sacramento, on the attorney general’s role in setting public policy. Michael Greve, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said activist state prosecutors are hindering interstate commerce by initiating sweeping unfair business suits against corporate giants that have ripple effects beyond their own state’s borders. And state legislatures, eager to tap into multimillion dollar settlements, are reluctant to rein in funding for their offices, Greve said. “I think we’d be much better off if attorneys general were appointed by the governor,” he said. Aggressive litigation will only lead corporations to lobby Congress for federal protections, “the one and only defense against the trial bar,” Greve said. “The fight over federal pre-emption will become harsher and harsher and harsher,” he said. Tom Greene, California’s chief assistant attorney general for public rights, scoffed at such criticism, saying Lockyer’s efforts have addressed “very real problems affecting the residents of California.” “The notion that the attorney general cannot step up on behalf of taxpayers and the public is nonsense,” Greene said. He lauded the $206 billion multistate tobacco settlement from 1998 as “perhaps the most important public health issue of the last 50 years.” A current lawsuit is challenging pharmaceuticals’ pricing practices that cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year, he said. “The reason we bring hundred-million dollar cases is because we think they’re damn important,” Greene said. But groups like CALA say Lockyer’s actions are benefiting private lawyers, and not necessarily public policy. CALA leaders complain [that] the state’s recent settlement with El Paso Corp. meant $60 million for 11 plaintiffs firms. And the current pricing lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies could reward three firms with one-third of any money the state recovers. Dresslar countered that the deal with El Paso resulted in $1.5 billion in rate reductions and other savings for customers. The pay-out to private firms “wasn’t our concern. At times we were at odds with those attorneys.” The pharmaceutical lawsuit is a False Claims case, Dresslar added, which, by statue, requires a certain portion of any recovery to go to the initial whistle-blowers. Bitar said CALA will publicize “report cards” in coming weeks that rate the attorney general on issues ranging from consumer protection to ethics. “It’s really part of an ongoing effort, trying to employ a different method to get information out about lawsuit abuse,” Bitar said. Dresslar dismissed the campaign as pro-corporate rhetoric. “They should spend less time fronting for drug companies and energy companies that ripped off the taxpayers of California and more time going after real lawsuit abuse,” he said.

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