Posted on March 12th, 2010 1 comment
So earlier today Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas decided to rear up on his hind legs and grab some national attention by filing a class action suit “on behalf of the residents of Orange County”.
(image from the District Attorney’s office)
Clearly the worst problems in Orange County California appear to be, it’s not getting enough national press. If this is what occupying their district attorney then truly, Orange County must be a little slice heaven.
Keep in mind, this is the county, one of the most prosperous in California, that managed to go bankrupt in the mid nineties. I suppose by now the embarrassment from that has faded so this issue must loom large in the sights of ace law enforcer Joseph “Tony” Rackauckas. Sure, the Orange County has struggled with plummeting property values, rampant mortgage fraud and home foreclosures, losing jobs but this Toyota thing, well, it has to be addressed.
Here’s a PDF of the complaint. Here’s a bit of it:
3. This case is based on several simple and provable facts: (a) millions of California consumers purchased defective Toyota vehicles; (b) Toyota knew that these defects existed; (c) Toyota failed to disclose these defects, and actually took affirmative steps to hide the defects and mislead the public about them; (d) as a result, none of the California consumers knew about, or reasonably could have known about, the defects; (e) millions of California consumers have been harmed by owning or leasing Toyota vehicles that contain defects which completely undermine the safety and reliability of the vehicles; and (f) the value of every Toyota vehicle owned by California consumers has been reduced because of these defects.
So one has to wonder what evidence Rackauckas has that congress apparently lacks, oh, and the entire news media since we’ve seen no evidence that Toyota has done any of this. What we have seen is a lot of very bad reporting, some folks with claims that are backed no physical evidence and make little sense and a general, “We hate Toyota” sentiment that seems to be driving this in some areas.
Here’s the kicker:
Relief sought by the OCDA
The OCDA is seeking to permanently enjoin Toyota from continued unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent business practices as it pertains to both consumers and competitors. The OCDA is seeking civil penalties in the amount of $2,500 for every violation of the Unfair Business Practices Act. The Plaintiff is also seeking recovery of attorneys’ fees, investigation costs, and any other equitable relief as deemed just.
So the “relief” is twenty-five hundred bucks for each Toyota owner plus legal fees? As usual, the attorney’s here bill for millions and the actual people might see as much as $2500. Great deal if you can get it, for the attorneys.
And because everyone deserves a chance to tell their own story I called the DA’s office in Orange County. I spoke with one of their spokespeople there and I asked a few questions to try wrap my mind around this thing.
I asked how many complaints the DA’s office had received regarding Toyota vehicles. The response was that this action on the part of DA Rackauckas is not based on consumer complaints from Orange County residents. Why Orange County first? Why not let the Feds deal with this. The response, from DA Rackauckas’ own speech is as follows:
As these cases continue to pile up, I became increasingly uneasy, knowing that many thousands of California consumers have purchased defective Toyota vehicles. I became increasingly concerned that Orange County consumers may be purchasing many more Toyotas without knowing the full facts.
I feel it is the duty of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to protect the public and our consumers from unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices. I feel it is our duty to make sure Toyota is not gaining an unfair business advantage over other car companies who are not doing what Toyota is doing.
Nice of OC to step up and offer to fight Toyota on behalf of, well, everyone. A little more history, directly from DA’s speech this morning:
You may remember that in 2002, we joined forces with the Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson law firm in taking action against giant international oil companies to clean up poison from ground water. As a result, we forced the oil companies to clean up over 300 sites and pay over $25 million in penalties and millions more in unlimited costs for cleanup of contaminated sites.
(editors note: I can only find records of OCDA getting a little less than $10 million in these suits)
It’s no secret that our office has been enduring a severe budget crisis. We have to prosecute the same number of cases with 10 percent less prosecutors and investigators. As important as protecting the public from unfair business practices and this case may be, I could not take prosecutors away from prosecuting murderers, rapists and gang members.
We all know that as soon as we file this suit against the world’s largest, most successful car corporation, they are going to be parachuting in lawyers, with all kinds of legal tactics up their sleeves. We need the assistance of a law firm, with expertise in these types of cases, to help us defend against the barrage of legal attacks we expect from this gigantic international corporation. Believe me, they will spare no expense to hire an army of lawyers from fancy firms.
Brave, I guess, but then fighting paper dragons often sounds much more impressive than it is. So, the mostly broke office of the Orange County District Attorney is going to take on Toyota over what they perceive as some kind of mounting crisis because no one else will? And they’re going to do it armed with what facts? And taxpayer paid outside attorneys? With what evidence? Based on news reports? And let’s be clear here, getting oil companies to pay to “study” and clean up after 143 leaky gas stations is a lot different than somehow proving Toyota has been knowingly selling defective cars and intentionally hurting people. The evidence with the oil companies was measurable. And even that settlement didn’t clean up all the gas stations, it only provided that the oil companies would spend several million dollars studying the sites to determine if a clean up was necessary. And the OCDA got $5 million in legal fees. Funny thing, those same oil companies with the Lake Tahoe water district for a similar issue. The result, Lake Tahoe got $60 million. Not such a great deal for Orange County residents, eh?
What’s more, let’s pretend for a moment that DA Rackauckas has a point and he’s doing god’s work here. Why just Toyota? There are more than handful of other recalls on other vehicles from other companies, some going back years. So why just Toyota?
As I’ve said here before, I’ll lead parade with torches to the Torrance offices if someone can show me proof Toyota has done what many in the media and the DA of Orange County is claiming. Keep in mind, I have a big, fat car loan right now on a 2010. My kid drives a Corolla. I have no desire to prop up a company that would knowingly hurt people to make money least of all, hurt my family and I.
But where’s the evidence?
And without that, people like this asinine DA in Orange County have caused me harm. Armed with a “timeline” they’ve damaged the resale value of my property, this DA and the media, without evidence and without care to actually reporting facts. It’s my opinion that I can prove that. I can point to the hundreds of bad, misleading and inaccurate articles that have damaged what my property is worth. I can point to idiotic grandstanding by the media and now, an officer of the court, namely, the District Attorney of Orange County California all of which have done nothing to “protect the consumer” and a lot of harm millions of Toyota owners all over the United States.
Where’s my lawsuit?
If were an OC resident right now, I’d be pissed my tax dollars trying to chase some Toyota gravy train that is highly unlikely to ever come in. And let’s be honest here, he’s not doing it for people of Orange County, Rackauckas is doing it for himself and for the other attorney’s. This District Attorney has a history of chasing these kind of budget problems. Only last year DA Rackauckas came under fire from a death penalty proponent for prosecuting so many death penalty cases? Why? They’re expensive. And in a time of budgetary problems it seemed pointless to spend the money prosecute these cases and incur the additional cost of asking for the death penalty in a state that has no death penalty.
He’s going to spend Orange County tax dollars paying outside attorneys to prosecute this case and he’s doing it to try and build himself a bigger name. And that’s pathetic because I don’t think that’s what Orange County residents elected him for.