California Attorney General Jerry Brown is worried that mercenary lawyers (is that redundant?) are abusing Proposition 65, a.k.a. the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The law requires disclosure of toxins and carcinogens in consumer products and authorizes enforcement by private litigators, who keep a quarter of the penalties. New York Times legal columnist Adam Liptak reports:
The law generates 100 to 150 settlements for a total of about $10 million every year, Mr. Weil [a lawyer in Brown's office] said. "There is a group of about a dozen law firms out there who do nearly all of the private litigation," he said.
The lawyers visit stores and do research on the Internet, matching products to substances on the list. "Even a few molecules will do," the frustrated appeals court judge, Presiding Justice David G. Sills of the California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, wrote last year in rejecting a proposed settlement…
The products need not be exotic. "Dried paint," Justice Sills wrote. "Furniture. Parking lots. Wiring. Really."
Weil complains about one lawyer in particular who "pummels small, basically defenseless companies for small amounts of money individually for cases that should not have been brought in the first place." But as Liptak concludes, the problem seems to be the law, not the lawyers who do what it invites them to do.
Update: Here's a copy of Liptak's column that's available to nonsubscribers.