The state attorney general’s office operates at a handicap when it comes to protecting consumers from fraud and other shady business practices.
Washington is one of only two states that require the state to pay the defendant’s attorney fees if the state loses a case at trial. This despite the fact that private parties who lose a consumer protection lawsuit in this state aren’t held to the same standard.
The 2014 Legislature could fix this discrepancy with a simple amendment of the state Consumer Protection Act. Of course, they will meet stiff resistance from the business community — lawmakers have in the past — but it’s still worth a try.
Consumers deserve a state watchdog unfettered from the fear of a big financial penalty. The state attorney general’s consumer protection division, which consists of 11 attorneys, has a reputation of carefully selecting cases for prosecution and preferring negotiated settlements over costly court cases.
The consumer division of the state agency has helped level the playing field in the past. It helped recover $1.2 billion for state homeowners in the 2012 national mortgage fraud settlement. Just let them do their job on behalf of consumers.