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Lawyers fight to keep license

Staff Writer

A State Bar Court judge will decide this month if three Beverly Hills lawyers should lose their licenses as a result of filing claims against thousands of mom-and-pop auto repair businesses and restaurants.

Judge Richard Honn will rule by May 21 on a petition by the State Bar that the three be placed on inactive enrollment immediately, pending disbarment proceedings.

Bar attorney Jayne Kim said Damian S. Trevor, Allan C. Hendrickson and Shane C. Han, principals with the Trevor Law Group, pose a substantial threat of harm to the public if they continue practicing law.

The three filed at least 3,000 suits using the Unfair Competition Law and are charged with multiple counts of moral turpitude, including creating a shell corporation to pursue lawsuits, filing lawsuits for the corrupt purpose of obtaining money and without any benefit to the public, filing suits without conducting any investigation first and sending letters containing false statements.

Under the guise of protecting the public, bar attorneys allege, the Trevor Group had only one purpose - to make money. "Their interests are all about the money and how much money they can obtain," Kim said. The lawsuits amounted to a huge scheme to defraud business owners of $7.5 million, had they been successful, she said, basing the figure on at least 3,000 lawsuits filed, most with a standard settlement demand of $2,500.

Even after the lawyers' tactics caused a public uproar, they continued to file more claims, Kim said. "Every step of the way, the Trevor Law Group had an opportunity to reform their conduct," she said, "and instead stepped up the level of misconduct."

Kevin Gerry, representing the three lawyers, said the charges against them do not rise to the level of ethical violations. Their actions were not illegal, Gerry said, but amounted simply to hardball tactics.

"These lawyers and the work they're doing serve an important public interest," Gerry said.

He also defended his clients' settlement efforts, arguing that settling cases is exactly what good lawyers do. As for making money, he argued, "That goes right to the heart of the capitalist system."

Gerry also accused the State Bar of filing actions against his clients "on behalf of the business community at the expense of consumers."

To Gerry's contention that the Trevor lawyers merely used aggressive litigation tactics, bar prosecutor Kimberly Anderson responded, "That is an insult to every lawyer in California who strives to represent their clients ethically and within the bounds of the law." She said the trio's conduct amounted to moral turpitude, not aggressive lawyering.

Trevor, Han and Hendrickson filed the lawsuits based on §17200 of the Business & Professions Code, also known as the Unfair Competition Law. It is most often used as a tool to protect the public from a variety of unsavory business practices. But the Trevor lawyers came under fire for using 17200 to conduct what lawmakers and law enforcement officials characterize as legal extortion.

Kim accused the three attorneys of creating a phony corporation, Consumer Enforcement Watch, for the sole purpose of filing lawsuits. CEW was staffed with the lawyers' family members and friends.

"Their conduct was unethical," she said. "They will not stop. But this court has the ability to stop them."

Han, who also faces charges of unauthorized practice of law, insisted that his firm's actions benefit the public. The lawsuits "level the playing field with the often low-income consumer and the businesses that often take advantage of them."

Earlier last month, the Trevor group dropped suits against some 2,600 defendants after a Los Angeles judge found the firm unfit to pursue some of the litigation. Judge Carl J. West ordered lawsuits against 1,600 auto repair businesses dismissed because they did not benefit the public, among other things. The restaurant cases were dropped when West indicated he was prepared to dismiss them

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