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Backers of 2 Insurance Initiatives File Suits Against Van de Kamp

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Times Staff Writer

Representatives of two insurer-backed initiatives have filed lawsuits accusing Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp of preparing false and misleading ballot titles and summaries for the initiatives and writing falsehoods against them in arguments for official ballot pamphlets.

The suits, filed Friday against Van de Kamp in Sacramento Superior Court by backers of Proposition 104, the insurance industry’s no-fault auto initiative, and Proposition 101, an initiative supported by Coastal Insurance Co., ask the courts to order changes in the titles, summaries and arguments before the Aug. 15 deadline for sending them to the state printer.

It is the latest of several instances in which Van de Kamp, a supporter of a competing insurance initiative on the fall ballot, the trial lawyer-backed Proposition 100, has found himself accused of a conflict between his official duties in preparing the ballot titles and summaries and his private advocacy of the trial lawyers’ side against the insurers.

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One of the suits, by the no-fault supporters, also accuses Van de Kamp of unfairly promoting Proposition 100 by preparing a false and misleading summary of it. The suit says the summary language claims that the proposition guarantees a 20% rate reduction when it does no such thing.

The summaries are printed on information pamphlets mailed to voters before Election Day and are supposedly unbiased, objective explanations of ballot initiative issues. Arguments for and against, written by advocates, also are included in the pamphlets. The courts are empowered to strike language determined to be false.

Asked for comment, Van de Kamp spokesman Duane Peterson declared:

“The titles and summaries were prepared by our government lawyers (in the attorney general’s office) on the one hand, and Mr. Van de Kamp expressed his views in the ballot argument on the other. They were two separate acts.”

Peterson would not elaborate.

The lawsuits contend that Van de Kamp cannot escape responsibility either for what the attorney general’s office does or for what he himself does as a private advocate.

One of the complaints asserts that there is a conflict of interest between Van de Kamp’s “role mandated by statute requiring that he provide a true and impartial analysis of Proposition 101, and his role at the same time in endorsing the opposition to Proposition 101 and signing the (ballot pamphlet) rebuttal containing false statements concerning Proposition 101.”

Lawyers for the no-fault initiative, in the other complaint, note that the state code says that “in providing the ballot, the attorney general shall . . . (use) such language that the ballot title shall not be an argument or likely to create prejudice either for or against the measure.” The complaint says that in fact Van de Kamp has used “highly prejudicial language” in the ballot label, or title.

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‘Future Regulation’

It objects specifically to language that the initiative “restricts future regulation.” In fact, it asserts, the Legislature is still empowered to act to regulate insurance but only by a two-thirds majority. Other initiatives, including the one that Van de Kamp supports, contain similar provisions, the complaint states, yet the attorney general didn’t mention them in his label for those initiatives.

The no-fault lawyers also accuse Van de Kamp of falsely stating in the official summary for Proposition 104 that it requires arbitration of disputes over insurers’ claims practices.

The Proposition 101 attorneys object to ballot arguments by Van de Kamp that Proposition 101 “will cost taxpayers money” and will require accident victims to use “all your sick leave, your vacation time, your health insurance, your workers’ compensation (and) your state disability before you get a dime from the insurance company of the person who hit you.”

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