Calif. trial lawyers help bankroll Democrats' junket

Chris Rizo Mar. 10, 2009, 3:00am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-A day after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency and ordered legislators to meet on a projected $42 billion budget gap, a group of state lawmakers went on a lavish trip paid by three special interests, including the state's trial lawyer group.

In December, as the state was in the throws of a budget standoff, Democrats and a handful of Republicans went off to California's wine country to enjoy gourmet meals, fine wine and cocktails -- all compliments of trial lawyers and the unions representing firefighters and carpenters.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the three groups paid the $14,000 tab at Wine and Roses hotel and spa in Lodi, Calif., state campaign finance disclosures show.

The newspaper reported that Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, raised the money for the two-day event attended by the Democratic Caucus and nine Republican lawmakers.

Steinberg's spokeswoman, Alicia Trost, said lawmakers discussed the state's fiscal woes in addition to political matters so it would have been inappropriate to have the Legislature foot the bill.

The Times said at the time of the event, the trial lawyers' group -- the Consumer Attorneys of California -- was seeking to relax some labor rules, particularly those relating to overtime pay. The newspaper said the group got what it wanted in the state budget package approved in February.

Dan Morain, a spokesman for the lawyers' group, was quoted as saying the organization helped bankroll the retreat because "consumer attorneys are proud to participate in the democratic process."

A leading government watchdog group decried the event.

"This is an unending problem in Sacramento, where lobbying groups bring politicians somewhere to wine and dine them," said Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog. "No matter who they represent, groups think that's the way you play the game."

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