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Foe of class-action suits files one of his own

August 17, 2009 |  3:51 pm

As general counsel for the business-backed Civil Justice Assn. of California, Fred Heistand makes his living railing against the evils of consumer-oriented class-action lawsuits, calling them “shakedown lawsuits” and “the weapon of choice for ... vexatious litigants.”

So some of the state’s trial attorneys were delighted when they learned that Heistand filed one of his own last week -- over a parking spat.

Plenty of ridicule has been directed his way since he filed in Superior Court Aug. 11, alleging that the City of Sacramento illegally towed his car from a no-parking zone.

“I hope there’s free parking at the Hypocrite of the Year award ceremony,” said Dan Newman, a political strategist for trial lawyers.

The linchpin of Heistand’s claim is that city signs did not warn that cars parked in the no-parking zone would be towed. The 10-page suit accuses the city of regularly charging “erroneous fines and towing costs while engaging in a financially beneficial relationship with private towing companies.”

Heistand refused to reconcile the suit with his work to curb others. He referred calls to association President John Sullivan.

Sullivan, in a written statement, did not exactly rush to his colleague’s defense.

“I was concerned this might happen,” he said. “Fred has been fighting against frivolous lawsuits for decades, and like a doctor fighting malaria, he’s become infested himself -- and with the worst strain of the disease -- class actions.”

Sullivan lamented that as many as four class actions are filed every day that a courthouse is open in the state, and “Fred’s case may have helped up the average.”

He did say he was happy that Heistand pledged to contribute any winnings – beyond the $205 in parking fines and towing costs – to the association.

"I’m pleased we won this pledge before the plaintiffs’ lawyers got to him with a membership request,” Sullivan wrote.

-- Evan Halper in Sacramento

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