The Mercury Insurance initiative’s lawsuit to stop the Attorney General and us opponents from telling the truth about Proposition 33 – how it will raise auto insurance rates – got tossed out of Sacramento Superior Court last Thursday. The Mercury campaign asked the court to rewrite the Official Ballot Pamphlet, which is sent to every voter’s home, so it would contain only Mercury’s false claim that everyone will get “discounts” if Proposition 33 passes. After an hour-long argument, the judge said no.

But the ink was hardly dry on Thursday’s court order when Mercury told yet another lie – this time about what we said in court.

In a press release issued Friday morning, Mercury said: “CONSUMER WATCHDOG ARGUES IN COURT THAT THE TRUTH IS ELASTIC.”

We never said that, of course. (The release also called us “corporate lawyers,” which the corporations we take on would no doubt find bewildering.)

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that George Joseph, the multi-billionaire Chairman of Mercury Insurance who has contributed 99.1% of the $8.29 million received by Proposition 33, can’t stop lying about his proposition and the consumer, citizen, senior and patient’s organizations who vehemently oppose it. After all, according to the California Department of Insurance:

“Mercury [has a] lengthy history of serious misconduct, and its attitude – contempt towards and/or abuse of its customers, the Commissioner, its competition, and the Superior Court….Among Department staff, consumer attorneys, and consumer victims of its bad faith, Mercury has a deserved reputation for abusing its customers and intentionally violating the law with arrogance and indifference….”

Mercury’s dirty propaganda campaign didn’t work back in 2010, when the company mounted a nearly identical proposition to deregulate auto insurance, also sued the Attorney General and us, spent $16 million, and still lost. Joseph and the pigs at the Mercury trough (an assortment of PR hacks, phony non-profit groups, insurance agents and bought-and-paid-for politicians) think the voters are stupid. But they are wrong. California voters can smell a dirty, self-serving initiative a mile away.

The Mercury Insurance campaign might have gotten away with its Friday fabrication, except we were able to catch them red-handed.

Hours before Thursday’s hearing, I found out that Joseph’s lawyers had not requested a court reporter be there to take down everything that was said in court. (Thanks to severe budget cuts, state courts can no longer afford to pay for court reporters – the parties in a lawsuit have to pay.) It seemed odd that this mega-billionaire would not spring for someone to record the truth… and then I realized that the Mercury campaign might not want a transcript of what happened in court, so they could lie about it later.

So I pulled out my checkbook, went to a special window at the Sacramento Superior Court, and paid the $30 for the court reporter myself.

Good thing, as it turns out.

The court reporter’s transcript confirms that our lawyer, the highly respected James Harrison of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, never uttered what Mercury quoted him as saying. Rather, citing the First Amendment and many legal decisions, he urged the court to reject Mercury’s attack on our conclusion that Proposition 33 will “deregulate” auto insurance premiums. Here are his words:

“Your Honor, as the Court noted, deregulation is an elastic and ideological concept. In the Huntington Beach case, for example, the Court refused to make a change to the argument that the measure requires AES, the electricity company, to pay its fair share. And the reason that the Court refused to intervene was that the term ‘fair share’ is a very elastic and ideological concept. What you understand to be a fair share might not be what I understand. The same is true of deregulation, your Honor. What I understand to be deregulation may have a very different meaning to someone else. It’s a very elastic concept.”

Mercury’s legal shenanigans wasted a lot of taxpayer money at a time when California courts are struggling to deliver justice fairly and efficiently despite a gaping hole that the Legislature has inflicted on the judicial branch budget. (Late Friday, Joseph’s lawyers filed an appeal, hoping to overturn the Superior Court’s decision. It was summarily denied.)

Forcing the Attorney General to defend in court her summary of Proposition 33, which she is required by law to prepare for the ballot, was also an unnecessary drain on that law enforcement agency’s scarce resources. (Joseph was also furthering a strategy recently adopted by Wall Street and other corporate interests: Attacking Attorney General Kamala Harris in an attempt to intimidate and undermine her.)

The Mercury campaign’s public relations minions don’t care about the cost to taxpayers. To them, filing a lawsuit in court is just another gambit in their greed-driven, deceptive campaign to get the voters to pass a law allowing companies like Mercury Insurance to raise your auto insurance rates and make more money.
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Posted by Harvey Rosenfield, Founder of Consumer Watchdog and Author of California Proposition 103, California’s landmark Auto Insurance Regulation law.