Calif. AG hopeful touts private rights of action

Chris Rizo Feb. 19, 2010, 7:44pm

Ted Lieu (D)

John Eastman (R)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Amid dwindling state resources, it will largely be up to California's trial lawyers to enforce consumer protection laws, a leading state lawmaker and candidate for attorney general said.

In a state of roughly 37 million, with just 5,388 personnel in the California Department of Justice and a shrinking budget to run the agency, it is impossible for the attorney general's office alone to pursue nefarious businesses, said state Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance.

"The single best way to deter misconduct is through private enforcement of the laws," Lieu told Legal Newsline. "I am a big believer in private rights of action, especially as government resources continue to dwindle."

He added: "If I were king for a day, I would greatly expand the private right of action," which allows private attorneys to sue on behalf of the public.

Lieu said the U.S. financial industry's recent near-collapse might have been avoided if lawsuits had been filed to keep banks and other financial institutions in check.

"One of the reasons that Wall Street got out of control was because we did not have private plaintiffs keeping them under control," he said.

Lieu, chairman of the powerful Assembly Rules Committee, is vying to succeed fellow Democrat Jerry Brown as the Golden State's next chief legal officer. Lieu is competing along with a crowded field for his party's nomination. On the Republican side, state Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach and legal scholar John Eastman are running.

Eastman, the former dean of the Chapman University Law School in Orange, said expanding the private right of action would be tantamount to enacting a "full employment act" for plaintiffs' lawyers.

"They are not in it for the public good," Eastman said. "They are in it to make money."

If he were elected attorney general and felt that his staff attorneys were overloaded and needed assistance, Eastman said he would not hire outside counsel on contingency-fee basis. Rather, he said he would pay lawyers their hourly rate, not contingency-fee awards.

"The only people who get rich on this are the trial lawyers," Eastman said of the controversial practice of AGs hiring outside counsel on contingency.

Critics of the practice say attorneys general have used their authority to hire outside lawyers as a way to pay back their political contributors, allowing them to make large sums of money in attorneys' fees.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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