Letters

Letters to the Editor

Editor,

Re “AG wields broad authority over suit settlements,” (Capitol Weekly,
October 12)

The article undoubtedly served the interests of the political operatives who
planted it. Just as surely, it failed to meet the standards of professional
journalism. None of the law firms the article mentions has received one dime
from our false-claims cases. The energy cases the article cites were not
false-claims lawsuits. Contrary to the article, my office has not been a
co-plaintiff with private lawyers in any energy case, including those
mentioned in the article. The “global” El Paso and Williams settlements
resolved separate claims by the state and private parties. And, as the story
itself notes, we are fighting in court the Sempra settlement backed by
plaintiff’s lawyers. The article falsely states that my office helps
negotiate plaintiff lawyer fees in false-claims cases. Those fees are set
pursuant to private arrangements between the plaintiff and their lawyer. We
do play a role in determining how much of the total recovery the plaintiff,
or whistleblower, receives. But the lawyers’ fees are beyond our control.

Further, my office has nothing to do with picking lawyers for private
plaintiffs, in false claims actions or any other kind of case. The article
states our office cited “confidentiality rules” in withholding information
on the amount of attorney fees in these cases. Wrong. We said we don’t know
how much plaintiffs’ attorneys receive in false-claims cases because the
fees are set pursuant to private contracts. The article mischaracterizes the
Diebold false-claim settlement. It states the balance of roughly $812,000
“went to cover the fees of the plaintiffs and their lawyer …” The
whistleblowers’ share of the settlement actually totaled $202,000. The
lawyer’s fees came out of that $202,000. And, contrary to the article, it
was the whistleblowers’ share of the state’s recovery–not the attorney
fees–that was subject to negotiation with my office. The article wrongly
states that whistleblowers’ attorneys in false-claims cases, “by law,” can
collect up to one-third of settlements. If the attorney general intervenes,
the whistleblower, not their attorney, can collect between 15 percent and 30
percent of any recovery. The lawyer’s fees come out of the whistleblower’s
recovery. The article quotes a state controller’s spokesman as saying that
office “has no record of disbursements from the [False Claims Act] fund.” In
fact, legislatively approved appropriations to the fund are monitored by the
controller’s office. All claims for expenditure from the fund are processed
by the controller’s office. All expenditures are reported to the
controller’s office in annual financial statements. Lost in the article’s
bogus angle and torrent of errors is this key point: These cases are about
recovering money for taxpayers when they get defrauded and ripped off.

Counting Medi-Cal fraud actions, my office, over the past eight years, has
recovered for taxpayers close to $500 million (not the $264 million cited in
the article) in false-claims cases. Anyone who cares about taxpayers, and
not political agendas, should consider that a success story.

Bill Lockyer
California attorney general


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