Editorial: Calif. lawmakers have problem with settlement claims bill

Bryan Cohen Feb. 17, 2012, 2:11pm


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - In an editorial special to the Sacramento Bee, California State Senators Joel Anderson and Doug LaMalfa said that state taxpayers should not foot the bill for lawsuits filed against the state.

Anderson and LaMalfa, both Republicans, wrote in a Friday editorial that Senate Bill 730, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe, is one of the annual settlement claims bills that often receive little resistance but spend tens of millions of dollars each year.

Claims bills don't go through a policy committee and often pass with little discussion because they contain payoffs to special interests, the editorial says.

"Historically, these claims bills contained noncontroversial settlements of lawsuits that have been filed against the state," Anderson and LaMalfa wrote.

"Most of the time these settlements are just compensation to individuals, businesses or groups that have been wronged by the state. However, in the last several years, the liberal Democratic majority that has a monopoly of control in the legislature has slipped very questionable settlement claims into these bills and then quietly moved these measures toward enactment."

According to Anderson and LaMalfa, one claim bill a few years ago included a proposed financial settlement to a drunk driver who crashed into a state office building. They said that the attorney general at the time thought settling the driver's lawsuit was in the state's best interest. Another bill contained a proposed claim for a state prisoner who confessed to a crime but was later found innocent.

"This year's most questionable settlement claim is a proposed $6 million payment to the Environmental Protection Information Center and others who for the last 40 years have sought to shut down the timber industry in California," Anderson and LaMalfa wrote.

""EPIC has worked hand-in-hand with Earth First and other radical environmental groups to kill off thousands of jobs in rural California. While Earth First organizes tree-sittings, sets up roadblocks and conducts other illegal activities, their comrades-in-arms, the lawyers at EPIC, file lawsuit after lawsuit against the state to stopping logging."

Anderson and LaMalfa said that after a friendly judge issued an order to stop a logging project, the center tried to get attorneys fees from taxpayers after their years of lawsuits. The judge in the case told the lawyers of EPIC and the attorney general's attorneys to attempt to reach a settlement. The EPIC attorneys asked for $10 million. Attorney General Kamala Harris agreed to pay $3.5 million plus interest, which equals the $6 million that Kehoe put into SB 730, they wrote.

"So now the taxpayers may be [on] the hook to pay $6 million to radical environmentalists whose goal is to put hardworking California taxpayers out of work," Anderson and LaMalfa wrote.

"We both argued against SB 730 when it came before the Senate last month but unfortunately it passed by a vote of 32-5 and is now pending in the assembly."

Anderson and LaMalfa suggest amending SB730 in the assembly so that it no longer pays off the EPIC attorneys.

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