Today's Daily Journal reports (subscription) on what sounds like a very interesting order by Judge Komar in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Citing People ex rel. Clancy v. Superior Court, 39 Cal.3d 740 (1985), he ruled that public-entity plaintiffs may not retain outside attorneys on a contingency fee basis to handle public nuisance lawsuits (in this case, against the lead paint industry). A copy of the order is available at this link (via the blog Valueplays). It sounds like an appeal is inevitable. The reason I find this interesting is I wonder what impact, if any, this development might have on public entities' efforts to retain outside counsel to handle UCL litigation (an idea that was discussed a lot in the wake of Prop. 64).
UPDATE: Today's Recorder also has an article on the decision ("Judge Stops Fee Pacts in Lead Paint Suit") (subscription) that expresses that very concern:
Some lawyers from both sides say Komar's ruling, even if upheld on appeal, would only apply to affirmative litigation based on a public nuisance cause of action. Still, [Santa Clara County Counsel Ann] Ravel is likely to appeal.
"I believe Judge Komar is clearly wrong, and if that decision stands, it will impair the ability of cash-strapped public entities from proceeding against defendants who create nuisances in their communities," Ravel said.
The types of suits Ravel is concerned about include not only environmental and zoning-related suits brought as public nuisance claims, but also tobacco litigation and other claims that might be brought under § 17200 of the state's Business and Professions Code.
"The reasoning could certainly impact those cases," Ravel said.