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BERKELEY – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced that nearly $4.4 million in proceeds from the settlement of a 1970s Levi-Strauss antitrust case will be used to create a new consumer research center at the University of California, Berkeley, named in honor of retired state Senator Nicholas Petris of Oakland, and help Californians by financing consumer enforcement and advocacy programs.
"For the past ten years these funds have been held in trust as the result of a 1988 settlement with Levi-Strauss for antitrust violations," Lockyer said. "It is extremely gratifying and appropriate that we put these funds to use to help consumers and improve health care quality through enhanced research and grants."
California brought an antitrust lawsuit in 1978 against Levi-Strauss which was settled by having the company set aside money to pay consumers who filed individual claims for refunds. However, since all of the available funds were not claimed from the 1988 settlement, the court established the Governmental Trust Fund in the Attorney General's Office for the purpose of advancing consumer protection and safeguarding the public against monopolies.
In May of this year, the Attorney General asked the San Francisco Superior Court to approve a plan that would use the proceeds of the Governmental Trust Fund. The court approved the plan to:
* Provide $2 million to the University of California, Berkeley, for the creation of the Nicholas Petris Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare. Under the direction of Professor Richard Scheffler, the center will research important issues of consumer protection, affordability and access to health care, health care choice and the concentration, regulation and competition in the health care sector.
* Provide $1 million to the California Consumer Protection Foundation, a charitable nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area which supports eligible non-profit consumer protection and advocacy groups.
* Authorize $800,000 to hire two attorneys within the antitrust section of the Attorney General's Office for up to two years to look at impacts of market restructuring.
* Have most of the remaining funds available for use by Attorney General and local agencies for up to three years for expert technical assistance and training to assist in ongoing efforts to protect California consumers and functioning of the marketplace.
* Allow any unspent funds after three years to be given to the California Consumer Protection Fund for use in consumer protection and advocacy.
Lockyer praised the University of California, Berkeley, and Dean Ed Penhoet of the School of Public Health for creating the Nicholas Petris Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare.
"As a state legislator for nearly three decades, Nick Petris was an strong advocate on behalf of consumers for affordable, accessible and quality health care," Lockyer said. "The new Petris Center will ensure that consumer-oriented research continues to be aggressively pursued and used to protect health care quality and affordability in California."
The Petris Center's research program will receive advice and input for consideration from an advisory committee representing the interests of consumers, law enforcement and recognized academics nominated by Consumers Union, the Attorney General, and the Dean of the School of Public Health. The committee will include a representative of health care providers.
Lockyer said the plan provides significant multi-level support for consumer protection efforts in California. In addition to the Petris Center, the plan will use the antitrust settlement proceeds for grants to nonprofit organizations with worthy consumer advocacy programs and enforcement actions brought by district attorneys and the state.