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Bakersfield Californian: Another view: Californian's Prop. 64 stand called 'wrong': “The case over the closure of the Shell refinery was simply about deception in the marketplace.”: “Documents from whistle-blowers showed Shell was misleading the public…” (



Posted Sunday October 31st, 2004


I disagree strongly with The Californian's support for Proposition 64.


When I received information from whistleblowers that Shell was deceiving the public about the reasons for closing its Bakersfield refinery, the only tool I had to stop Shell was a lawsuit under California's Unfair Business Competition law.


Proposition 64, paid for in part with six-figure contributions from Shell, Exxon and British Petroleum, would stop these very types of cases by the public. The initiative takes away the legal rights of citizens to prevent harm before it occurs and to bring lawsuits about deception, false advertising, environmental harm or public health threats. The only cases Proposition 64 allows citizens to bring are those where a financial injury or property loss has already occurred.


The case over the closure of the Shell refinery was simply about deception in the marketplace. Shell claimed it was shutting down the refinery because there was not enough local crude and the refinery was not profitable. Documents from whistle-blowers showed Shell was misleading the public and the threat of an unfair competition case helped force Shell to agree to seek buyers for the plant and ultimately to keep the refinery open six months longer. Within weeks of a lawsuit being threatened in the Los Angeles Times, Shell began reversing its positions about demolishing rather than selling the facility.


The tool that Proposition 64 takes out of the hands of public interest groups is devastating. That is why California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said, "In many cases, what Proposition 64 tells the people of California is this: When you see the air being polluted, the water being contaminated, trees being mowed down, when you see your family's neighborhood threatened by an environmental danger, you will have no effective legal weapon to fight with."


The American Lung Association, Sierra Club, California Nurses Association and Consumers Union oppose Proposition 64 for the same reason. When the supermarket Safeway changed the date on old meat and resold it, consumer groups stopped the practice by bringing a case under the unfair competition law. Environmental groups sued oil companies for polluting California drinking water supplies with MTBE under the law and forced oil companies to pay for the cleanup of the water before anyone got hurt. Tobacco companies have been forced to stop marketing to children because of an unfair competition case.


Ironically, the only cases by members of the public that Proposition 64 allows to go forward are class actions over lost money and property the very cases pursued by the "trial lawyers" Proposition 64 backers claim to put out of business.


Proposition 64 does not target bad lawyers, only a good law that has held corporations accountable since 1933. Legislation to create greater transparency of lawyer behavior was torpedoed by the big business backers of Proposition 64 this year because the companies knew that would undercut their attempt to be free from accountability.


The truth is Proposition 64 is poison for the public, not unscrupulous lawyers.


Consumer activist Jamie Court is president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and works for

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