Friday, December 20, 2002
Trevor Law Group Refiles Suit With New Plaintiff While Under Fire
By ALLISON LOMAS, Staf Writer
The Beverly Hills law firm that prompted a State Bar probe after filing a flurry of lawsuits against small businesses has lost Helping Hands for the Blind as its plaintiff in four suits against more than 1,000 restaurants.
Damian Trevor and Allan Hendrickson of the Trevor Law Group refiled the case in Los Angeles Superior Court Dec. 12, naming 1,036 defendants and new plaintiff Consumer Enforcement Watch Corporation, attorney Frank Chen said yesterday.
Helping Hands President Robert Acosta said his Chatsworth-based advocacy group for the blind bowed out because it had not agreed to the massive strike against the restaurant industry.
Chen has been advising Assemblywoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, who last week called on the State Bar and several city, state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate allegations that the Trevor Law Group is engaging in extortion by suing businesses, then demanding $1,000 to $25,000 to dismiss a defendant. The State Bar has since announced that a probe was already under way.
Chu alleged that the most recent lawsuit targets primarily non-English speaking owners of mom-and-pop businesses who are more likely to be frightened by the threat of a lawsuit and less likely to know their rights.
The Trevor Law Group caused an uproar earlier this year when it sued nearly 2,000 auto-repair shops, mostly in Santa Ana, alleging unfair business practices on the behalf of Consumer Enforcement Watch.
State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Mike A. Nisperos said the law firm sued under Business and Professions Code Sec. 17200, which allows any person to sue a business for certain illegal conduct even if the action has already been remedied by a regulatory agency, and even if the plaintiff is not a personal victim.
Chu said she believed none of the 270 defendants from her district have agreed to settle because of efforts by her office to inform the restaurant owners that they should seek legal counsel.
Chen said the suit was based on Health Code violations that typically result in low ratings being posted on the restaurants.
In order to recover, the plaintiff must show the restaurants profited from whatever action led to the low ratings. But Chen said no restaurant that received a low rating for violating the Health Code likely profited from that fact.
Consumer Enforcement Watch, a Santa-Ana based non-profit, was incorporated on April 30, immediately preceding the first lawsuits, and the corporation’s mailing address is the same as the Trevor Law Group’s mailing address, according to Web sites maintained by the State Bar of California and Secretary of State Bill Jones.
Chu said the head of the Consumer Enforcement Watch Corporation is Damian Trevor’s wife.
Neither Trevor nor Hendrickson returned calls.
In reaction to these, and similar cases, several legislators, including Santa Ana Assemblyman Lou Correa, say the unfair competition law must be reformed.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer agrees, spokesman Tom Dresslar said, and is aware of the apparent abuses of the statute and intends to make a “thoughtful effort to fix the problem, but is not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Chu agreed, saying that reform must be approached with balance because “I believe the law in essence is a good one and that it protects consumers.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company