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Attorney General Bill Lockyer has employed California’s unfair competition law to sue a Southern California law firm accused of using the statute to extort settlements from small businesses. Lockyer’s recent filing against the Trevor Law Group in Los Angeles Superior Court is no surprise — the AG threatened the action earlier this year after a legislative hearing investigating Trevor’s practices. But the move officially thrusts Lockyer into the middle of the ongoing debate over reforming the statute, Business and Professions Code � 17200. Interest groups and legislators on both sides of the reform question have said they were waiting to see what Lockyer would do. Lockyer can point to his own suit to show that there’s nothing really wrong with the statute, a major weapon in the arsenal of the plaintiffs’ bar, which so far is resisting substantial reform. “It’s unlikely that there will be significant changes to 17200,” Lockyer said. “Many of us [in Sacramento] think that the best remedies are with legal actions and the State Bar.” Lockyer said he expected to file more suits against attorneys — mostly in Southern California and Sacramento — currently under investigation by the Bar and his office. Asked if he was trying to influence legislators, Lockyer said his message was more geared toward the lawyers accused of wrongdoing. Lockyer filed against the Trevor firm and Consumer Enforcement Watch, a for-profit consumer group that has served as plaintiff in suits against hundreds of auto repair shops. Those suits are still pending in court. Lockyer’s action alleges Trevor did not investigate claims before it sued, filed against unrelated businesses, made secret settlements with no public benefit, split attorney fees with non-attorneys and violated rules of civil procedure. Shane Han, a partner at the Beverly Hills firm, said Lockyer’s suit was part of “some political game.” “If [Lockyer] believes there’s something really wrong, more power to him,” Han said. “If he’s motivated by politics then that will play itself out in the suit.” By using 17200, Lockyer can ask a court to dismiss the Trevor firm suits and also issue a permanent restraining order to enjoin it from filing new 17200 actions unless approved by a court. Lockyer also wants the Trevor lawyers to be hit with $1 million in civil penalties and make full restitution of “all money or other property that they may have acquired by their violation of 17200.” “We’re not shooting pea shooters here,” Lockyer said. John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, which is leading the push to reform 17200, said he wasn’t discouraged by Lockyer’s suit, even if someone tries to hold it up to show how useful 17200 can be. “We have no problem with the attorney general and district attorneys using 17200,” Sullivan said. “The law in the proper hands … works.” If anything, Sullivan said Lockyer’s move might help make the tort reformers’ case in the Legislature. The basis of the AG’s suit describes common behavior by plaintiffs’ attorneys, he said. Bruce Brusavich, president of Consumer Attorneys of California — Sullivan’s adversary in Sacramento — said that interpretation simply wasn’t true. For example, plaintiffs’ attorneys rarely seek secret settlements in 17200 actions, as the Trevor group did. Showing just how strange the 17200 debate can be, Han, of the Trevor firm, agreed with Sullivan while defending his firm’s actions. “[Lockyer] is complaining about things all plaintiffs’ attorneys do. When you see something wrong or unlawful, you go after them,” Han said. “That’s what happens in civil litigation.” The case is People v. Trevor Law Group et al, 290989.

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