The Land Use Report

The Private Attorney General Doctrine

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Senate Bill 730 (authored by a Democrat) is one of the “settlement claims” bills passed on a pretty routine basis each year. In a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed, Senators Anderson and LaMalfa (both Republicans) complain about this bill. They concede that these settlement bills are mostly just fine, providing appropriate compensation to individuals or businesses that have been wronged by the state. In recent years, though, they say, “the liberal Democratic majority has slipped very questionable settlement claims into these bills.”

Their specific objection seems to be a proposed $6 million payment to the Environmental Protection Information Center (or EPIC) to reimburse EPIC for its attorneys’ fees. The way they see it, EPIC is “trying to get attorney fees from the taxpayers for … putting Californians out of work.” They claim that the taxpayers shouldn’t be “footing the bill for lawsuits against the state.”

The Senators’ quarrel is actually with something called the “private attorney general doctrine.” If a governmental agency is supposed to be protecting our natural resources, and doesn’t do that, and if private attorneys have to go to court to make the government protect our resources, and if the attorneys win in court, then the government has to pay for the attorneys’ fees. That seems fair to me, and it is the law. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans!

More Information:

Gary Patton’s Blog: Two Worlds

Assembly Analysis of SB 730

Sacramento Bee Op-Ed On SB 730

Senate Bill 730 By State Senator Christine Kehoe

Private Attorney General Doctrine – CCP 1021.5

EPIC Website

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