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In the midst of this week’s sentencing of high-profile securities plaintiff’s lawyer William S. Lerach, a tort reform group announced the introduction of two bills aimed at curbing class actions in California. A third bill is designed to curb frivolous lawsuits. The tort reform group, the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC), dropped a proposed ballot initiative on the eve of last year’s November elections that would have curbed class actions. Now, the group is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1905, which was introduced on Feb. 8. The bill would allow either side of a class action lawsuit to appeal a judge’s initial certification order. Under current law, only the plaintiff is allowed to appeal a certification denial, while the defendant must wait until after a class action is complete to appeal a certification order. Several other states, including South Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Alabama, Georgia and Colorado, allow such interlocutory appeals of class certification decisions, according to the CJAC. “The concern is the integrity of the class action system, which has been soiled of late by people like Bill Lerach,” said John Sullivan, president of the CJAC. Lerach, a former partner at Milberg Weiss who pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy in the government’s kickback probe, was sentenced to two years in federal prison on Monday. A second bill, introduced on Wednesday, would allow judges to withhold some attorney fees until all of the class members in a lawsuit are contacted and have received their portion of a settlement. The CJAC, in its sponsorship of Senate Bill 1202, claims that the bill is designed to prevent abuses in which unclaimed funds go to charitable organizations, under the cy pres doctrine. The CJAC is sponsoring a third bill that would carve out frivolous claims in lawsuits while retaining meritorious allegations. Assembly Bill 1891, introduced on Feb. 8, defines “frivolous” as claims that are meritless, use improper litigation tactics or unjustified delays, or have been filed solely for the purpose of obtaining settlements. The bill also would allow judges to order plaintiffs to pay attorney fees to defendants if they brought a “frivolous or delaying tactic.” Under current law, defendants are allowed to seek sanctions only if the entire suit is without merit.

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