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SACRAMENTO � Attorney General Jerry Brown has threatened a prolific private toxic law litigator with “appropriate actions” if he doesn’t “change” his methods. In a letter sent Friday, Brown asked Connecticut-based attorney Clifford Chanler to answer a series of questions about settlements his clients have entered into with retailers selling lead-laced glassware and ceramics. Brown said the amount Chanler charges in those settlements “seems unwarranted,” since the defendants rarely challenge the complaints Chanler brings under Proposition 65, California’s toxic protection law. “We are writing to express our concern about the manner in which you and your clients have pursued Proposition 65 matters concerning lead in the surface coatings of glassware and ceramicware,” Brown and Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward Weil wrote. “It needs to change.” In a phone message left with The Recorder Tuesday afternoon, Chanler said he will be responding to the attorney general’s letter today. Efforts to seek a response from Chanler by phone and e-mail late Tuesday were unsuccessful. Prop 65 allows private plaintiffs to sue companies that don’t warn consumers about toxic or carcinogenic products � if local or state prosecutors decline to do so. Chanler, on behalf of three clients, has filed more than 600 so-called 60-day notices with retailers since 2001, according to the attorney general’s office. Through 2006, Chanler’s firm collected more than $15 million from approximately 200 Prop 65 complaints filed in superior court, including $9.2 million in attorney’s fees, the letter said. “The underlying merit of the lead exposure is not in question,” Weil said in an interview Tuesday. The attorney general, however, questions how much Chanler is earning from settlements and whether he is collecting from retailers who don’t know their glass or ceramic products contain lead. That is supposed to be a defense against liability: If retailers are told about the lead and either warn potential buyers or pull the products from their shelves, they shouldn’t be exposed to damages, Brown and Weil wrote. “I get companies that call me and complain about this very bitterly,” Weil said Tuesday. Chanler is operating under a 2005 court-approved structure that directs future lead-contamination settlements. The so-called Boetler settlement ties penalties and attorney fees in individual cases to the characteristics of a defendant company. The attorney general signed off on the Boetler settlement, although Weil said state prosecutors weren’t crazy about some of the provisions. “We have not been objecting to all these settlements because you don’t want to be coming into court and quibbling” over every detail, he said. But Brown and Weil contend that Boetler is billing too many hours into settlements with defendants who aren’t challenging the complaint. “You get more and more efficient at these cases and your hours should go down,” Weil said. The letter says that one Alameda County settlement included $19,000 in seemingly “unreasonable” attorneys fees and costs, given the boilerplate nature of the work. The letter also asks Chanler to explain how pursuing retailers who didn’t know their products contained lead is “in the public interest.” Brown wrote that his office is considering a number of new policies to curb Prop 65 suits, including a campaign to educate retailers about their rights, “closer scrutiny of legal documents and fee applications” and filing its own Prop 65 actions to block Chanler’s complaints. “Please advise us of whether you intend to proceed in these matters as you have in the past or modify or cease you practices,” the letter ends. The letter was personally signed by Brown, an indication, Weil said, of “his level of interest in this issue.”

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