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It was March 2001 and Joseph Dunn, a state senator from Orange County, Calif., was determined to do something about the rolling blackouts that had swept through his state the previous summer. Dunn formed a special investigations subcommittee to ferret out the causes, figuring it would take two or three months. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, though, and was glad when Laurence Drivon, a plaintiffs’ lawyer he had known from his own days as a litigator, volunteered his services. Drivon of Stockton, Calif.’s Drivon & Tabak had heard about Dunn’s project and was between cases. He thought he could help his friend investigate the blackouts and conduct hearings, so he told Dunn he’d give him 90 days. That was 21 months ago and counting. “He keeps telling me it’s going to slow down,” Drivon laughs. “I have learned to take that as a proclamation from a politician.” As special legal counsel to the subcommittee, Drivon has had a busy year. Working with Dunn, he locked horns with energy companies and Ross Perot, among others, accusing them of exploiting California’s energy market while confronting them with documents he wrested from their files. “Due to Larry’s leadership, we have successfully pissed off everybody that’s got a finger in the energy pie,” Dunn declares with unabashed admiration. It was largely through Drivon’s work that last May the subcommittee uncovered memos written by Enron’s outside counsel describing techniques to “game” the market. One memo mentioned Timothy Belden, who headed the company’s energy-trading operation in Portland, Ore. In October, Belden pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiring to defraud California of hundreds of millions of dollars by manipulating prices. Last summer, Dunn’s group accused Ross Perot’s company, Perot Systems, of unethical business practices. The company had been hired to integrate the computer system that runs California’s wholesale energy market. When former presidential candidate Perot testified in Sacramento, Drivon introduced documents that appeared to show that his company sought consulting contracts with energy companies to help them exploit bugs in the system. Perot denied the allegations, arguing that none of the information his company offered was proprietary. Private plaintiffs have sued Perot Systems; the state attorney general has not said whether he will join them. It may be some time before the full value of Drivon’s work can be measured. Using the information he helped obtain, California, Oregon and Washington are seeking restitution for alleged price gouging by six large energy companies. In November, one of them, the Williams Co., settled for $417 million. Whatever the final outcome of the cases, Dunn says his subcommittee’s investigation has far exceeded the industry’s expectation of a politicians’ “dog and pony show.” That bubble was burst when Drivon stopped requesting documents and started issuing subpoenas — almost unheard of in state legislatures. The energy companies replaced their lobbyists with litigators, and Enron sued to quash the subpoenas and end the investigation. PRIOR BIG WINS Though Drivon likes to present himself to adversaries as a small-time lawyer from the sticks, in truth, says Dunn, he “knows exactly what he’s doing.” His biggest win as a litigator was a $295 million verdict in a 1999 Ford rollover case. The previous year he won a $30 million jury verdict against the Catholic Diocese of Stockton in a clergy abuse case — one of only a handful that have gone to trial. After Enron’s lawsuit was thrown out, Drivon initiated contempt proceedings against the company — the first time anyone had dusted off that process in the California Legislature since 1928. When the state senate found Enron in contempt and Drivon suggested sanctions of $1 million a day along with the possibility that CalPERS, the state’s giant mutual fund, might divest its Enron holdings, Enron turned over the documents. At age 61, Drivon may be the world’s oldest legislative intern. (The Legislature deemed an internship the easiest way to make him official.) In return for his efforts, he’s paid $1 a month. The time required varies, he says. Sometimes he works full-time for weeks before the pace slows. He has traveled the country, often paying his own way. And he still keeps up a semblance of his practice. On average, he estimates he devotes two or three days a week to the cause. As if this weren’t enough, he also found time to lobby the state Legislature to pass an unusual sexual abuse law in June. For the year 2003, California’s statute of limitations won’t apply to child sexual abuse lawsuits. The new law also permits plaintiffs to sue churches, hospitals and schools that knowingly allow abusers access to children. Though he wasn’t paid for this work, “it certainly is going to benefit my practice,” he acknowledges. His work for Dunn, he pledges, will not. Despite a reputation as an iconoclast, Drivon has impressed even his adversaries. Joel Kleinman of Washington, D.C.’s Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinski represents Duke Energy. Like the other big energy companies, Kleinman’s client wasn’t pleased to be slapped with “very broad subpoenas that demanded disclosure of very important information,” he says. Even so, he calls Drivon, “a consummate professional.” “From what I saw personally, throughout this rancorous public debate,” Kleinman says, “Larry respected professionalism by lawyers on the other side and always acted that way himself. And he never lost his good humor.”

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