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SACRAMENTO � Business interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce, filed a proposed ballot initiative (.pdf) Friday that would make it tougher for plaintiff lawyers to pursue class actions. The California Class Action Lawsuit Fairness Act mirrors legislation defeated by state Democratic lawmakers in May. “This is certainly the next necessary step in accomplishing class action reform,” said John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, which is co-sponsoring the initiative with the Chamber of Commerce. “The Legislature has demonstrated that it’s not going to act when a balanced measure is presented before it,” Sullivan said. While Sullivan insisted that initiative backers are only trying to make the class action system fairer, Consumer Attorneys of California President Raymond Boucher accused CJAC’s corporate members of trying to escape accountability. “This is another attempt to deny justice to citizens by eliminating class action lawsuits and for big business to dodge responsibility for violating the rights of their customers and employees,” Boucher said in a prepared statement. With its statewide structure, sizable bankroll and strong ties to the governor, the Chamber of Commerce would pose a formidable challenge in any initiative fight. Calls to Chamber President Allan Zaremberg on Friday were referred to attorney Steven Lucas with Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor. Lucas was traveling and could not be reached. Much like the legislation defeated in May, the proposed ballot measure would repeal California’s 135-year-old class litigation statute and replace it with more defendant-friendly rules. Defendants would have a new right to appeal class certification orders. Judges would have to make more findings before certifying a class. And discovery directed to the merits of the case would be barred until a class is certified. The initiative would also set new rules for awarding attorneys fees, including a provision that would allow a judge to consider whether the plaintiffs rejected any settlement offers that turned out to be similar in scope and size to the court’s final ruling. California’s trial lawyers have successfully fought off three threatened ballot initiative campaigns since 2005 � one to cap contingency fees, another to restrict punitive damages awards, and a third to curb disability and construction-defect lawsuits. They did so by using a mix of negotiated political truces, retaliatory initiative proposals, and help from friends in the Legislature. Initiative supporters never submitted the requisite signatures. The CAOC has also accumulated a $2 million initiative defense fund, according to records filed with the Secretary of State’s office. But Sullivan said he doesn’t see initiative supporters backing down in this instance. “You can’t dictate what the other side does, but I believe that everyone would benefit from some clarity, some rules to go by when it comes to class action laws,” he said. “This is a chance to get the law into the 21st century. It shouldn’t be subject to any kind of gamesmanship.” CJAC and the Chamber of Commerce have five months to collect 433,971 signatures to qualify their initiative for the ballot sometime next year.

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