Three California trial lawyers, who reportedly made their fortunes shaking down thousands of small immigrant-owned business owners through the filing of frivolous lawsuits, have resigned from the state bar after facing disbarment over alleged ethics violations.
The lawyers all work for the Trevor Law Group, a Beverly Hills law firm that specializes in the filing of consumer protection lawsuits, better known as "17200 claims." (Read Shakedown in "The Golden State"). Under the exceptionally broad Section 17200 of the state's Business and Professions Code, any public prosecutor or private citizen (acting for themselves or on behalf of the public as "private attorneys general") can file suit against any business for an "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice" or any "unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising."
State courts have often given free reign to 17200 actions, allowing the claims to be applied in almost any context. If found guilty under Section 17200, a business can be forced to disgorge all monies acquired by means of any unlawful actions.
Stories about the Trevor Law Group's exploits became well known after members of the state's General Assembly began holding public hearings for the business community to share their experiences with 17200 shakedowns.
According to The Press Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.) the Trevor Law Group and a one-man, for-profit enterprise named "California Watch Enforcement Corp." sued the owner of a motorcycle shop in Riverside for abbreviating the words "on approved credit" (O.A.C.) in a print advertisement. According to the owner, he got a letter from the Trevor lawyers saying they'd accept $5,000 to settle the matter out of court.
The Associated Press reports that an attorney for Trevor Law Group acknowledged at a recent legislative hearing that the California Watch Enforcement Corp. -- which shares the same address as the Trevor Group -- receives its income "solely" from 17200 legal settlements.
Last year, the Trevor firm and California Watch sued more than 2,000 auto-repair shops in California, alleging unfair business practices under Section 17200. Many of the suits were based on minor technical or administrative violations of the Automotive Repair Act that were posted on the Bureau of Automotive Repair's website as "confirmed violations."
After repeated pleas from the business community, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the State Bar Association have begun investigating other lawyers in California for alleged extortionist tactics.
The Trevor lawyers are exceptionally small fish in what has become an ocean of trial lawyer abuse in this country. However, it's a start, and a significant signal has been sent to the trial bar in California. It's time now for other attorneys general and state bar associations to follow suit and begin to clean up their own states, one lawyer at a time.July 17, 2003
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