More on Orange County D.A.'s Fee Agreement
By Todd Roberson on 08/15/2011 @ 11:48 PM
Over the weekend the Orange County Register ran a follow-up story on the Orange County D.A.'s release of its fee agreement with a plaintiffs' attorneys firm - D.A.'s deal with for-profit law firm: Bad Public Policy?
CJAC President Kim Stone is quoted extensively explaining why these agreements ARE bad public policy.
In sum, "There's a big difference between private, for-profit lawyers and public prosecutors. Public prosecutors are supposed to be motivated by a desire for justice and doing the right thing. A private trial attorney is motivated to get his 20 percent. Those are very different things."
Victory: Orange County D.A. releases contingency fee agreement
By Kim Stone on 08/12/2011 @ 11:48 PM
CJAC members and friends,
I wanted to inform you that, at our urging, the Orange County District Attorney's Office finally released its contingency fee agreement with a plaintiffs' attorneys law firm.
This is a major victory for CJAC -- and I'd like to share some background that will help explain why.
In March 2010, the Orange County District Attorney, Republican Tony Rackauckas hired plaintiffs' law firm Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson to prosecute Toyota for selling cars that allegedly accelerated uncontrollably. This is a potentially enormous case - the D.A. said he will seek the maximum penalty of $2500 per violation - multiplied of course by the hundreds of thousands of Toyotas sold in California.
The lawsuit provoked some controversy in Orange County - nearby is Toyota's North American headquarters in Torrance. The local paper, the Orange County Register, urged the District Attorney to release the agreement-but Rackauckas refused. On August 9th, CJAC submitted a 7-page letter to the D.A. asking for the contingency fee agreement to be released to the public and explaining why the reasons for the D.A.'s prior refusal were invalid.
Within 24 hours the D.A. complied with the request.
CJAC is thrilled that our letter was persuasive enough to convince the D.A. to release the fee agreement. Although we believe it is bad public policy for public prosecutors to partner with for-profit contingency fee trial lawyers, if prosecutors choose to do so, at the very least they should disclose the fee arrangements.
CJAC's position is that public prosecutors are different kinds of lawyers than contingency-fee trial lawyers. Public prosecutors are powerful government lawyers whose job it is to do the right thing; prosecutorial ethics impose strict requirements upon prosecutors. Contingency-fee lawyers, on the other hand, are motivated to get as much money as they can. One can imagine a situation where a prosecutor, in the interests of justice, might use the powers of his or her office to compel a company to change its practices or to do something differently even if that meant that the company would pay less in a settlement. But a contingency fee trial lawyer - who gets a percentage of the overall award - is only motivated to increase the amount that the company pays. To a carpenter with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
CJAC hopes that other prosecutors will refrain from hiring contingency fee lawyers to prosecute the public's cases - but if they do, we certainly want to see the fee agreements.
On an interesting side note, CJAC is pleased to see that the law firm, of which Mark Robinson is a partner and is also past president of an attorney association staunchly opposed to voluntary binding arbitration to resolve personal injury, product liability or employment disputes, agreed as part of the contract to resolve any disputes they have with the D.A. over fees by binding and final arbitration.
CJAC Issues Public Records Request for Orange County D.A.'s Contingency Fee Agreement
By Todd Roberson on 08/09/2011 @ 11:00 AM
Today CJAC sent a public records request to the Orange County District Attorney's office regarding the fee agreement it entered into with the Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson law firm (a plaintiffs' attorneys firm) to prosecute the unintended acceleration claims against Toyota. The Orange County Register previously filed a public records request over this contract, which the D.A.'s office rejected in March of 2010. CJAC's request, which you can read here, explains why we disagree with the D.A.'s claim that the contract does not have to be released to the public.
CJAC has always had concerns with public prosecutors entering into fee agreements with private attorneys because they allow personal financial gain to become a motivating factor in the pursuit of cases, instead of government attorneys impartially determining what is in the public's best interest.
Private contingency fee lawyers are motivated by making money. Government prosecutors are given more power than other attorneys -- they have the power of the people -- because they have greater responsibility, a higher ethical code than do other lawyers. If a government prosecutor hires a plaintiff's lawyer on a contingency fee basis, the public should know what the agreement is for. Who gets what in the event of a settlement? What if the best public policy involves a change in practice but not a large monetary award?
We hope the Orange County D.A. will reconsider and release the agreement, but if not we are prepared to ask a court to compel the D.A. to do so. The D.A. is a public office, supported by public funds, and the public has the right to know how that office's responsibilities are being carried out.
The Orange County D.A. will have 10 days to respond, and an additional 14 days if they want them. We hope they make the right decision.
Op-Ed: Prop. 65 Bounty Hunters Hurt Small Businesses
By Todd Roberson on 08/08/2011 @ 11:48 PM
In last Friday's issue of the San Jose Mercury News, an op-ed by the President & CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Henry Alford, discusses the impact of plaintiff's attorneys taking advantage of California's Proposition 65.
As Alford writes, Proposition 65 - the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 - "has done a good job at keeping many communities healthy by preventing unsafe exposure to toxic chemicals."
However, the "bounty hunter" enforcement mechanism in Prop. 65, "has allowed California's all-too-eager trial lawyers and radical organizations such as the Center for Environmental Health and Consumer Advocacy Group to take advantage of small businesses."
He also quotes a recent editorial in the Latino Times that stated, "the bounty hunter provision essentially has turned a handful of trial lawyers in the state into deputized attorneys general with the power to engage in what is essentially legalized extortion of small businesses."
Why the Lawsuit Against Nutella is Bunk
By Todd Roberson on 08/04/2011 @ 11:48 PM
Have a look at this article in Slate this week that explains why concerns about the Ferrero company's Nutella breakfast spread are overblown, and why a lawsuit filed in California for false advertising is certainly over the top. As the article explains, the Advertising Standards Authority already rejected false advertising claims in June. Let's hope the same happens to the lawsuit.