Monday, September 16, 2002
Consumer Protection Lawyer Herschel Elkins Chosen for Public Law Award
By LORELEI LAIRD, Staff Writer
California Senior Assistant Attorney General Herschel Elkins has been named the State Bar’s 2002 Public Lawyer of the Year for his leading role in consumer protection.
Elkins has been head of the Consumer Law Section of the Attorney General’s Office since it was formed 37 years ago and has become influential and respected in the community of consumer protection law. Current and former colleagues describe him as legendary for his legal knowledge, experience, dedication and personality, and for establishing California as a leader in consumer protection law.
Supervising Deputy Attorney General Ron Reiter said he has stayed in the Consumer Section largely to work with Elkins.
“I remained in large part because of Herschel’s incredible inspiration and energy and a real sense that he, and as a result we, were helping to repair the world in sometimes small but nonetheless important ways,” Reiter said.
He called Elkins a guiding force for generations of deputy attorneys general.
“He was a mentor then, and he is now, for DAs throughout the State of California,” Reiter said. “Even further, he is a revered voice nationally. I have seen him walk into a meeting with representatives of state attorneys general and the conversation stops and people ask him questions.”
Elkins was nominated for the award by his staff and recommended by a prestigious list of California attorneys: Attorney General Bill Lockyer, former attorney general John Van de Kamp and former attorney general and governor George Deukmijian. Elkins has worked under all three men, as well as four other state attorneys general, both Democratic and Republican.
“Attorneys General come and go, but Herschel outlasts them all,” Van de Kamp’s letter of recommendation said. “He is the Dean of California’s consumer protectionists, a model for those similarly occupied throughout the United States.”
Reiter noted that Elkins’ name appears on more than 200 appellate cases, adding that “he had an active hand in every one of those.”
Elkins started in consumer protection right out of UCLA Law School. He said he never planned to stay more than “a couple of years.”
What kept him there for more than three decades was, indirectly, the Watts Riots.
His office was already working on cases related to consumer protection, but in the aftermath of the 1965 race riots, after Attorney General Stanley Mosk Mosk had been appointed to the Supreme Court, his successor, Tom Lynch, was interested in establishing a separate section.
“People were complaining that there were not sufficient actions against white-collar crime, people taking advantage of the poor,” Elkins said.
“The concern was that something needed to be done to protect consumers from being victimized,” Reiter agreed. “They picked Herschel to lead it. And Herschel really created it from nothing, I think, created one of the most prestigious if not the most prestigious consumer protection division in the United States.”
Elkins said he welcomed the opportunity to work on consumer protection.
When the opportunity came there I sort of grabbed it,” he said. “I thought it was extremely significant to people’s lives. I can think of hardly anyone, unless you’re on your way to the moon, that you’re not affected by it.”
In his years in the Consumer Law Section, Elkins has seen plenty of change—not only the technology and social changes you might expect, but new forms of consumer fraud and changes in the demographics of the state.
“There are more than 170 languages in California and people seem to be cheated in all of them,” he said.
On a more positive note, he said, companies are now more willing to hear their customers out-perhaps as a result of the body of consumer protection legislation that he helped expand considerably over the last 50 years.
“At least companies are now more responsive to people who are at least squeaky wheels,” he said. “If someone made complaints, there is now someone to talk to.”
Elkins said he doesn’t plan to retire and rest on his laurels anytime soon—there’s still plenty to keep him interested, even after decades on the job. “It’s been too exciting over the years for me to leave,” he said. “I come to work every Monday morning very enthused. We can’t do everything but at least we can do something.”
Reiter called Elkins “an incredible dynamo.”
“He is as intellectually acute now at 73 as he was the first day I met him,” Reiter said. “This award is really kind of a reflection of a lifetime of consumer protection. And he’s not retiring, either, he’s going strong.”
Chief Justice Ronald M. George will present Elkins with the award on Oct. 11 at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Monterey.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company