It took Democrats less than a day to kill the biggest pieces of tort reformers’ 2008 legislative agenda. Dispatched quickly on Tuesday were: AB 1905, which would have allowed defendants to appeal a judge’s class certification; AB 1891, which authorized stronger sanctions against lawyers who engage in a broader definition of “frivolous” activity; and SB 1202, which would have allowed judges to withhold a portion of attorneys’ fees awarded in class actions until class members were paid.
That the bills died is no surprise. Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R- Claremont, author of AB 1905, even conceded during the Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing that he was “tilting at windmills.” So why the drill? Republicans say that introducing ill-fated bills is no drill — they truly believe in the proposed changes and want to at least air them for discussion.
But others might wonder whether the doomed legislation isn’t a “Hey, I tried” signal to their corporate backers. Or whether the authors are laying the ground work — again — for a ballot initiative. That’s what happened last year.
After lawmakers shot down a bill to curb class actions, the Civil Justice Association of California drafted a ballot measure with nearly identical language. CJAC quickly withdrew the proposed initiative after California’s trial lawyers retaliated with their own slate of anti-corporate initiatives (eventually withdrawn as well).
So were Tuesday’s bills just proxy skirmishes in the ongoing war between consumer attorneys and corporate interests? It’s hard to imagine either side pushing an initiative war in a major election year. But it is only March.
Speaking of bills dispatched to the legislative afterlife, the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday also rejected AB 1828, which would have exempted election precinct workers from jury duty for a year. Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said his bill would help elections officials recruit for tough-to-fill poll-worker jobs. Democrats, persuaded by the California Judges Association and the Judicial Council, thought the bill would drain already shallow jury pools.
— Cheryl Miller