There’s a reason Sen. Dianne Feinstein is considered the most respected California politician, and it’s once again on display: The San Francisco Democrat consistently cuts through the spin and the partisan trappings of many issues with constructive, thoughtful calls to action.
The latest example came March 8, when Feinstein sent a letter to Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, telling him that if the Legislature didn’t move to prevent abuses of state laws involving disability rights and access, she would consider introducing corrective legislation in Congress. Lawyers have used these laws to wrest settlements from hundreds of companies by alleging technical violations. Making money is plainly their goal, not improving compliance, as a recent California Lawyer investigation showed.
Feinstein said “predatory lawsuits and coercive demand letters” must end. She’s right. What we need is a status quo in which compliance is the focus of state laws and regulations on access for the disabled, not creating opportunities for unethical trial lawyers to harvest cash.
The parallels with the Trevor Law Group scandal of a decade ago are obvious. Then, a Beverly Hills law firm wrote demand letters citing obscure technical violations of state environmental rules to hundreds of businesses – often run by minorities with limited English skills or without awareness of their legal options. Even though then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer likened this to extortion, the Legislature refused to amend the law that permitted it. Only a ballot measure fixed this abuse.
This time, we hope the Legislature heeds Feinstein and shows better judgment.