EDITORIAL: Bill aims to foil Proposition 65 bottom feeders

May 6, 2013 

We have great respect for the legal profession. Most attorneys adhere to a strict code of ethics and many provide service to the downtrodden, victims and underdogs.

Then there is Miguel A. Custodio Jr.

Custodio has found at least two niches since he graduated from UCLA law school in 2007. A few years ago, he attracted public attention by sending letters to small businesses claiming that they failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

More recently, Custodio has been threatening small-business people who neglect to post Proposition 65 signs warning customers that some product they serve is known by the state to cause cancer or be a reproductive toxicant.

The Sacramento Bee's Jeremy B. White reported that Custodio has sent out no fewer than 60 notices faulting restaurants for failing to properly warn customers about alcohol.

There might be words other than "extortion" or "shake-down" to describe the missives. But we can't think of what those words might be. Rather than risk being sued, many shopkeepers will settle by paying "an appropriate civil penalty."

Approved by voters in 1986, Proposition 65 is titled the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, not the Bottom-Feeders Enrichment Act. Proposition 65 has served an important function by helping to inform the public about chemicals that could cause them harm. For example, state Attorney General Kamala Harris relied on Proposition 65 in a suit last week week seeking to force grocery chains to stop selling candy that contains lead.

Assembly Member Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, is pushing legislation that gives businesses two weeks to correct failures to warn without having to "pay an appropriate civil penalty." His Assembly Bill 227 won passage in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, with support from environmentalists and plaintiffs' attorneys who don't want to take the blame for Custodio and his ilk.

Gatto's bill would further the goal of the measure in a variety of ways, not the least of which would be to restore confidence in a law that is being abused. As an added benefit, the legislation would help the legal profession, most often a noble pursuit, help itself.

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