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SACRAMENTO � Displaying the political skills he honed over 25 years in the state Legislature, Attorney General Bill Lockyer late Monday revived � and then doggedly won passage of � a bill that will allow his office to recover costs in public rights cases. Republicans and moderate Assembly Democrats had killed SB 1489 two weeks ago after heavy lobbying by tort reformers. But on Monday, Lockyer � the former state Senate majority leader � prowled the Assembly chambers and hallways for hours. By that night, the attorney general had swayed 20 Democratic votes to his side without weakening the bill, leaving him victorious and bill opponents scratching their heads. “It was a textbook lesson in civics,” said John Sullivan, president of the tort-reform group Civil Justice Association of California. “The first vote was a vote on policy and it perished. The second vote was an example of power politics.” Although lobbying on the Assembly floor is forbidden, Lockyer could be seen chatting with members who had previously voted no. “Just answering questions,” Lockyer said later, when asked about the conversations. “They probably got tired of seeing me.” Actually, Lockyer needed four votes for passage Monday � a procedural one to resurrect the dead bill, and then three more roll calls before he finally secured a majority approval. SB 1489 now heads to the more liberal Senate where it is expected to pass easily. Lockyer said he expects the governor to sign the bill; the governor’s office has not yet signaled its intentions. Democrats in 2004 tucked language into a budget bill allowing the AG’s office to recover costs in public rights cases, including environmental, consumer fraud and antitrust causes of action. The attorney general argued that he needed the recovery power to finance cases that might otherwise be abandoned in tough budget times. In 2005, a trial court struck down the budget-bill provision on procedural grounds. Later that year, the governor vetoed a bill with similar provisions, saying it might encourage the attorney general to hire private firms to sue on the state’s behalf. Lockyer said SB 1489 addresses the governor’s criticism by severely limiting the attorney general’s ability to hire private lawyers. Yet business groups maintain SB 1489 will turn state prosecutors into bounty hunters who file lawsuits based on the size of a defendant’s pocketbooks. Innocent companies will settle lawsuits rather than risk significant attorneys’ fees with a court loss, opponents argued. “We certainly do not want to chill the ability of people who are accused to defend themselves because the costs are so exorbitant,” said Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico. But Lockyer said his office needs fee-recovery powers to thwart deep-pocket defendants who “stonewall and stall” litigation in hopes that the attorney general will drop a lawsuit. Lockyer lobbied intensely for the bill even though he only has a few months left in office. The former East Bay legislator is a candidate for state treasurer. “It matters to the office,” Lockyer said, “to see that the public rights’ agenda is modestly financed in a stable and effective way.”

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