SACRAMENTO – The Civil Justice Association of California
(CJAC) recently released its 2015 list of political contributions and
expenditures from personal injury and other plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Kim Stone, president of CJAC, told the Northern California Record that the organization compiles the data
“because it is important for Californians to know who trial lawyers are giving
their money to.”
“Paying attention to the money they give can provide
valuable insights,” she said, adding that it is important to note the
percentage each politician received rather than just the dollar amount. She said that a $10,000 contribution to one individual may be only a small fraction of that
person’s total contributions, while it would be a much more significant
percentage of another’s total.
California Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) led the
pack with $41,233, or 29.32 percent of his total 2015 contributions coming from the trial bar. Stone is chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee where civil justice reform measures are considered before either moving forward to the full Assembly, or languishing, In November 2015, he was named "Legislator of the Year" by the Consumer Attorneys of California.
Kim Stone said the abundance of Americans with Disabilities
Act lawsuits in California in part stems from the plaintiffs' bar filing lawsuits based
on “minor issues” or technicalities, most of which do
not ultimately require the business or individual being sued to correct compliance issues for
which they were being sued.
She said the plaintiffs’ in general also attacks arbitration, which she states is a “fair, just and quicker” manner of attempting to
resolve legal disputes, but that it is not favored by attorneys who make much less in arbitration than they would if the case gets litigated until trial or settlement.
“(It is) legalized extortion; purely about the money and not
about justice,” she said.
Julie Griffiths, Central California regional director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, offered a similar opinion of the trial bar.
She noted that the state's legal system is often “stacked
against defendants,” particularly small businesses.
For example, Griffiths said
lawsuits that give defendants small windows to correct issues for which they were sued are very harmful especially when the business did not know it was doing
In particular, Griffiths cited the far-reaching restraints
of California’s Proposition 65, which requires those whose products could be
sold in California or used by a California resident to include clear labeling
on products if they contain chemicals that have been red-flagged by the
California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment because of links to
cancer or reproductive issues.
“Some attorneys are more into taking advantage of the
system,” Griffiths said, adding that some plaintiffs’ attorneys “want to
protect legal limits built into the California system” in exchange for large paydays.
Griffiths addressed Mark Stone’s track record, saying he has
historically been against reforming California law to minimize frivolous
lawsuits and against small business “in favor of playing up attorneys.”
Regarding campaign contributions from the trial bar to California lawmakers, Griffiths said, “We need to pay attention to who they are giving to, and then we can ask
questions about why. It’s less about how it’s influencing (the legal system)
and more about the particular reason.”
Mark Stone is facing opposition in his 29th Assembly
seat re-election bid this November from businessman and environmentalist Douglas Dietch of Aptos and Republican entrepreneur Sierra Roberts of Marina.