In a move that raises serious doubts about whether Governor Schwarzenegger intends the new laws he trumpets to have any teeth, the Governor vetoed legislation sponsored by California’s Attorney General Bill Lockyer that would have kept the playing field level when our state’s top cop tackles corporations that violate California’s laws. Schwarzenegger’s veto is also a slap at taxpayers, who foot the bill for curbing illicit activities, and should be able to recoup those expenditures when the lawbreakers are caught and the People of California win in court.
The stakes for our state are enormous. If you visit Attorney General Lockyer’s website, you’ll see case after case where he won billions of dollars in refunds for California consumers, forced polluters to cease spewing toxins into our air or dumping them into our water, stopped tobacco companies from handing out free cigarettes to kids, curbed securities frauds perpetrated on stockholders and employees, cleaned up phony charities that ripped off donors, reined in lumber companies from decimating protected forests, and enforced hard-fought civil rights laws.
Before, our Attorney General could count on being reimbursed if his office’s litigators brought good, solid cases and trounced the bad guys. But not any more. Now, thanks to Schwarzenegger’s veto, enforcement of generations of laws enacted to protect Californians from a whole host of evils is in jeopardy.
The bill Schwarzenegger killed was SB 1489, authored by Denise Ducheny, a moderate democrat from San Diego. It would have simply restored the Attorney General’s ability to recover reasonable attorneys fees and expert witness costs from the losers–an ability suddenly lost when a wildcard court decision overturned the old law on a technicality. To accommodate Schwarzenegger, SB 1489 was even weakened, compared to former versions of the law enacted with broad bi-partisan support. For example, it made recovery of litigation costs subject to court approval. Before, recovery was automatic.
The bill should have been a no-brainer, but with Schwarzenegger in office, Big Biz smelled blood. They greased palms via campaign contributions. Their lobbyists swarmed over the Capitol in Sacramento. In the end, SB 1489 barely squeaked by in the Assembly, with support from most Democrats but no Republicans.
Fueling the special-interest feeding frenzy: since Schwarzenegger stumped for Proposition 64, and succeeded in stripping away private enforcement of our laws, the only way many California laws can be enforced is by the Attorney General. But only if he can afford to bring the cases.
Now, multi-billion dollar corporations that break our laws will have every incentive to engage in scorched-earth legal tactics to run up the costs of litigation, knowing full well that California’s Attorney General and California taxpayers can ill afford to keep pursuing cases through a series of costly, drawn-out appeals.
If you thought the energy crisis, with those gleeful e-mails boasting about bringing California to its knees, was a unmitigated disaster, hold onto your hats. Governor Schwarzenegger has just hamstrung our best hope for fending off the Ken Lays of the world in the future.