Scott: Speakership change could be good for business community

By Chris Rizo | Dec 10, 2009

John Perez (D)

Tom Scott

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-A leader in California's tort reform movement said Thursday he is "very cautiously optimistic" about John Perez becoming the leader of the California state Assembly on Thursday.

Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, became Assembly speaker, succeeding fellow Angelino and Democrat Karen Bass, who critics say did not do enough to help recession-wracked small businesses.

Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said while Perez has supported legislation to curb frivolous lawsuits in this his first term, overall he has a mixed record when it comes to legal reform issues.

"He is certainly trending in the right direction," Scott told Legal Newsline. "However, his full record is mixed so I guess time will tell."

Scott praised Perez for supporting Assembly Bill 83, which extended liability protections to Good Samaritans who help out in good faith at the scene of an emergency.

The law by state Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, was enacted in response to a state Supreme Court decision late last year that said state law only partially protected those who voluntarily act as Good Samaritans from possible negligence lawsuits.

Scott also pointed to Perez's support for Senate Bill 367, which was introduced after San Diego attorney Alfred Nava sent threatening letters to businesses warning of possible civil rights actions if they continued offering furloughed state workers special discounts.

The bill "ended meritless lawsuits," Scott said.

"So based on that sampling I am impressed," Scott said. "I would hope that making California's economy is priority No. 1. And to do that reforming our litigation climate is paramount."

As speaker, Perez makes appointments to committees, including the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which considers liability issues.

Scott said he is hopeful that Perez places some "pragmatic business-friendly Democrats" on key committees like the judiciary panel.

"Now is the time to implement that change," he said. "There has to be some new thinking in the legislative process."

Perez's final opponent, Kevin de Leon, in the race for speaker bowed out, setting the stage for Assembly lawmakers to select him. Perez is the first openly gay man to hold the powerful post.

A cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker, Perez will replace Bass, who will be forced out of the Legislature by term limits next year.

Scott said Bass was not aggressive in trying to curb frivolous lawsuits, which are blamed for squeezing already-struggling businesses.

"While she too supported some minimal common sense reforms, I think she has been lacking in overall leadership when it comes to reforming our litigation climate in California," Scott said. "She is definitely a friend of the trial lawyers and her campaign contributions show that. Businesses in her district are struggling to survive and yet the Legislature was business as usual."

Perez was chairman of the 51-member Assembly Democratic Caucus before being elected speaker. The 80-member Assembly is led by Democrats.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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