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Trevor lawyers quit bar

By Nancy McCarthy
Staff Writer

Three Beverly Hills attorneys who faced possible disbarment as a result of using allegedly extortionate tactics in suing thousands of small business owners under the Unfair Competition Law resigned from the State Bar last month.

Allan C. Hendrickson, 39, Shane Chang Han, 32, and Damian Trevor, 29, submitted their resignations July 10. They practiced together as the Trevor Law Group.

"We are very happy to have received the resignations from the Trevor attorneys," said Mike Nisperos, the bar's chief trial counsel. "The investigation of the three lawyers was the largest in the history of the bar, and the trial certainly would have taken a great deal of time and resources. Their resignations in this case will allow us to move forward with the balance of our growing docket."

The resignations were forwarded to the Supreme Court for action.

The actions of the three lawyers, who were charged with 36 counts of professional misconduct in June and whose licenses already had been lifted by the bar in May, drew widespread attention to the Unfair Competition Law, also known as section 17200 of the Business & Professions Code. Their activities led to a lawsuit by Attorney General Bill Lockyer as well as legislative hearings to reform the law.

Lockyer said that despite the resignations, he would not dismiss his case, which seeks a $1 million fine and restitution for businesses that settled claims with the firm. "We're going to go forward with our lawsuit," Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer, said. "These lawyers are fairly young. They'll be able to secure employment that will provide a source of revenue to pay the civil penalties and restitution that we're confident we'll be able to obtain in the lawsuit."

Lockyer sued Long Beach attorney Harpreet Brar and his law firm, Brar & Gamulin, last month, charging similar abuses of section 17200. The attorney general alleged that Brar and his firm committed illegal business practices in suing hundreds of nail salons solely to obtain nuisance settlements and attorney fees. He filed the complaint under §17200, the same statute he used to sue the Trevor Group and the same statute the Trevor lawyers and Brar used to sue small businesses.

"The lawsuits filed by Brar and the other defendants were shams," said Lockyer. ". . . Their only interest was in lining their pockets with easy money. Brar & Gamulin is not so much a law firm as a quick-buck racket that has inflicted financial harm on law-abiding small business owners."

Brar, 31, lists a Long Beach address and Martin Gamulin, 33, is listed in State Bar records with a Fresno address. Gamulin was not a named defendant.

The Trevor Group sued thousands of restaurant and auto repair shop owners, many of them minorities, for minor violations that were posted on the web sites of regulatory agencies. They denied doing anything illegal and justified their actions as legitimate consumer protection.

They also filed an anti-SLAPP motion against Lockyer, claiming he is attempting to violate their freedom of speech. That action was pending in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The bar's disbarment petition against the Trevor lawyers accused them of a variety of ethical violations, including filing unjust actions, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, making misrepresentations and forming a sham corporation to serve as plaintiff in litigation carried out with a corrupt purpose.

They filed 28 lawsuits, 24 on behalf of a plaintiff they created called Consumer Enforcement Watch. All the suits but three named 30,000 Does. They were filed strictly "to generate attorney fees and income for themselves," the bar charged.

If the Supreme Court accepts the resignations, which it likely will do, the Trevor lawyers can reapply for admission in five years, but must prove they have been rehabilitated.

Meanwhile, a two-bill package designed to tweak 17200 continued to move through the legislature, but drew fire from tort reformers and corporate lawyers who said it will likely be challenged on constitutional grounds.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, said her measure, SB122, offered a "laid-back approach" to reforming the UCL, which she said "needed some tweaking." A companion bill, AB95, authored by Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Likewise, Escutia's measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The bills are double-joined, and each must pass and be signed by the governor in order for either to take effect.

The Consumer Attorneys, who are backing the package, say it would halt abuses of 17200 by requiring that plaintiffs tell defendants their rights and notify the State Bar that they have filed an action. Courts would have to review attorney fees and plaintiffs would be prohibited from joining multiple defendants in a single action simply because they engaged in similar businesses.

But opponents cited due process concerns and said the proposed measures would not halt 17200 abuses. In particular, they oppose a disgorgement provision which would require a business to disgorge illegal profits from unfair practices.

A March Supreme Court decision strictly limited UCL judgments to restitution for specific victims of unfair business practices. Escutia's bill authorizes "any appropriate relief" in UCL cases, a proposal critics charge would make businesses unfairly liable for much larger damages.

"This change would expand the reach of §17200, making lawsuit shakedowns even more costly to defendants and increasing the lawyers' take in settlements and attorney fees," said Jeff Sievers, vice president of the Civil Justice Association of California.

"The kind of lawsuits these bills would foster will erode jobs, drive up costs to consumers and give lawyers money that could otherwise be used to expand and create jobs."

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