Corporate Defenders Want to Bar Consumers’ Access to Justice
A "poster child" for "ridiculous and truly abusive lawsuits" is how John Sullivan of the Civil Justice Association of California described the Benson v. Kwikset case in a Forum piece ("A Slow End to 'Kwikset'," March 25).
What's truly ridiculous is that Sullivan would defend a company that deceived American consumers by illegally advertising its products as "Made in U.S.A." after closing its California factory and shipping jobs to Mexico.
A court found, and an appellate court affirmed, that Kwikset's fraud was clearly illegal. So why would Sullivan defend unpatriotic law-breaking?
The fact is, the Civil Justice Association of California's screed is a poster child for the corporate immunity lobby's efforts to deny access to the judicial system for consumers defrauded by powerful corporations.
As the attorney representing the plaintiffs on appeal in the case, let me remind Sullivan that Kwikset made locks at a factory in Anaheim, until it decided to close the California factory, lay off 450 American workers, and open a new plant in Mexicali. In addition to the Mexican plant, Kwikset imported parts from Taiwan, Canada and Malaysia.
That's all perfectly legal.
However, Kwikset continued to tout its products as "MADE IN U.S.A.," "ALL AMERICAN MADE" and "ALL AMERICAN MADE AND PROUD OF IT."
In California it's illegal to use these phrases for products "substantially made, manufactured, or produced outside of the United States." Federal law allows it only if "all or virtually all" of the parts and labor are American.
Adding insult to illegal injury, Kwikset added American flag graphics to the packaging.
Not surprisingly, highly respected Orange County Judge Raymond Ikola ruled against Kwikset, saying the plaintiff's case conferred a "significant benefit" on the general public: "The public policy of this State .. is that all persons are entitled to fair and truthful advertising. The public is entitled, under the law, to be given correct information about the products they buy. ... By any measure, this action conferred a significant benefit on the public."
So why would Sullivan defend a company's right to ship jobs out of the country and illegally deceive consumers? The motives are clear once we peek behind the curtain at the Civil Justice Association of California's board - AIG, big banks, tobacco giants, the pharmaceutical industry and oil companies - a notorious group of corporate miscreants that have long sought legal immunity after harming consumers, the environment and the economy.
The Civil Justice Association of California opposes holding powerful corporations responsible for their actions. Just as its members believe it's OK to give hundreds of millions in taxpayer-funded bonuses to corporate executives destroying our economy, the Civil Justice Association of California doesn't want Kwikset to be held accountable for their illegal deceptions.
Make no mistake; the Civil Justice Association of California's true goal is to bar the courthouse doors to consumers and investors victimized by powerful corporate interests, such as AIG, big tobacco and Kwikset. In the deepest recession in our lifetime, brought about by some of worst corporate abuses in history, the defenders of these corporations continue to try to restrict consumers' access to our judicial system. That's ridiculous and truly abusive.
TIMOTHY G. BLOOD
COUGHLIN STOIA GELLER RUDMAN & ROBBINS