Every year the Attorney General’s office releases an annual summary of the private settlements of Proposition 65 cases brought by private plaintiffs. The office has been doing this since 2000 and the summaries are based on reports submitted to the Attorney General as required by law. The summary shows total penalties, attorney fees, other funds collected, and includes a brief description of actions defendants were required to take to remedy alleged violations.
For years, CALA has been posting these annual summaries and discussing the outrageous attorney fees. Specifically, we have pointed out how a certain group of individuals and organizations collect huge sums of money by filing shakedown Prop. 65 lawsuits up and down the state.
So here are the numbers from the 2013 Proposition 65 Settlement Summary. In 2013, there were 352 settlements, and total payments of $17,409,756. Of that $17.4 million, non-contingent civil penalties accounted for 15% ($2,680,059), payments in lieu of penalty were 11% ($1,998,435), and – wait for it – attorney fees and costs were a whopping 73% ($12,731,262). Just like every year, the attorneys are generating millions in fees from shakedown lawsuits, and our small businesses are paying the price.
When you break it down further, the picture becomes a little more appalling. One attorney, Russell Brimer, had 60 settlements in 2013, with total payments of $2,430,101. His attorney costs and fees totaled $2,004,871 – 83% of his settlements. The Consumer Advocacy Group had 25 settlements totaling $1,364,000, and their attorney fees and costs totaled $1,153,000 or 85%. Another attorney, Anthony Held had 18 settlements totaling $551,000 and his attorney fees and costs totaled $485,000 or 88%. It is outrageous that these attorneys are abusing the law to get rich.
There was one point of light in 2013: AB 227 by Assemblyman Mike Gatto was signed into law. This new law will eliminate some of this abuse, but as new chemicals get listed and new regulations are proposed by OEHHA, the problem of Prop. 65 lawsuit abuse is probably only going to get worse. The Governor wants the shakedowns to stop, but they appear to be moving along faster than his beloved high speed train. This is part of the reason CEOs rank California as the worst place to do business. We should be focusing on job creation and shutting down the shakedowns.