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Calif. lawmaker seeks to overhaul state's class action law

By Chris Rizo | Feb 12, 2010

Audra Strickland (R)

John Sullivan

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Legislation taking aim at "the worst abuses" California's complex class action law was introduced Thursday in the state Legislature.

Authored by state Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, marks the latest effort to overhaul California's class action law, outlined in Section 382 of the California Code of Civil Procedure.

Proponents of the bill, including the Civil Justice Association of California, says the law, enacted more than 50 years ago, is in need of update.

The Sacramento-based tort reform lobby said the proposed Consumer Legal Remedies Act would "bring much-needed clarity" to class action law while helping to keep jobs in the Golden State, where unemployment has topped 12 percent.

"This bill strengthens California law," CJAC President John Sullivan said. "It will stop the game playing and uncertainty that results under current state law, while protecting the class action remedy in cases where it's appropriate."

Strickland's proposal is outlined in Assembly Bill 8X 38. The bill would provide state judges with statutory rules for handling class action cases, something legal reformers say will help reduce the legal uncertainty that makes class actions so expensive and time-consuming.

The bill would, among other things, establish prerequisites for a class action lawsuit and provide processes for defining or certifying a class, notification of class members, withdrawal by a member of a class and orders for the conduct of class actions.

The bill would also require a court that certifies a class for a class action to appoint class counsel pursuant to specified requirements.

CJAC said it is California's plaintiff-favored legal landscape that is driving investment and jobs from the state.

The group pointed a survey by Harris Interactive that ranked California 44th in an annual survey of states' legal climates from the perspective of in-house corporate counsel around the nation.

Moreover, in its annual report on states' judicial landscapes, the American Tort Reform Foundation this year said California is on the verge of earning the dubious distinction of being a "judicial hellhole" in its books.

Strickland's push to reform California's class action law comes after Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made tort reform part of his five-point economic agenda, calling for tort reform in his State of the State address last month.

The governor said he wants to "improve California's litigation climate" by allowing defendants to appeal class action certifications and by requiring plaintiffs rather than defendants to pay for notification to other potential class members.

But Republican efforts to overhaul the state's litigation landscape could be stymied because the state Legislature is controlled by Democrats, many of whom get large amounts of campaign cash from the state's powerful plaintiffs' bar, which is typically opposed to legal reforms.

"I don't see any enthusiasm in the Democratic-controlled Legislature to rein in the abuses of the plaintiffs' bar," Ted Frank, founder and president of the Center for Class Action Fairness, based in the District of Columbia, told Legal Newsline after the governor's announcement.

Strickland, who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection to the state Assembly, is a candidate for Ventura County supervisor. She is challenging fellow Republican Supervisor Linda Parks, who has drawn criticism for her environmentalism.

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

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