Justices OK Levi Ruling, Back New Consumer Unit

Times Staff Writer

The state Supreme Court today called for creation of a novel consumer group to safeguard against antitrust and other violations, approved an award to a million people who bought Levi's jeans in the early 1970s, and took a swipe at Gov. George Deukmejian.

Led by Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, the court by a 5-2 vote affirmed a lower court ruling that grants a few dollars each to roughly 1.2 million Californians who bought men's and boys' Levi's jeans in the early 1970s.

But the lasting importance of the ruling will be the consumer trust.

"For the first time it allows consumers to join together to effectively combat corporate fraud, false advertising and price fixing," said Robert Gnaizda of the public interest law firm, Public Advocates.

Today's ruling left details of the fund to be worked out by a lower court. The high court noted that without the fund few people would benefit from the $12 million settlement reached in 1981.

That settlement granted the attorney general's office $1.2 million for filing the original suit in 1976. Today's ruling criticized actions taken by then-Atty. Gen. Deukmejian, who gained publicity for himself in announcing the settlement during his campaign for governor.

The court noted that, in 1981 when the trial court approved the settlement, checks to most plaintiffs would have amounted to $2.60-$3.

"Hence," Bird wrote, "it appears that the only substantial beneficiaries of the settlement were a few large claimants--including the state--and the attorney general, who gained not only the fee award for his office but also substantial free publicity for his then upcoming gubernatorial campaign."

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