Capitol Alert

John Sullivan, long-time Capitol figure, dies

John Sullivan, president of Association for California Tort Reform, left, and Joseph Harbison, Consumer Attorneys of California board member, were rivals in the legislative arena but posed for this picture in 1998 to illustrate a Sacramento Bee article.
John Sullivan, president of Association for California Tort Reform, left, and Joseph Harbison, Consumer Attorneys of California board member, were rivals in the legislative arena but posed for this picture in 1998 to illustrate a Sacramento Bee article. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

John Sullivan, a fixture of Capitol politics for nearly 40 years, particularly as a principal figure in the perpetual war over personal injury lawsuits, has died. He was 73.

Sullivan, who retired in 2010 as president of the Civil Justice Association of California, succumbed to cancer last Saturday, the CJAC said.

He had headed the organization, originally known as the Association for California Tort Reform when founded in 1979, for 15 years, representing business interests and insurers in their battles with Consumer Attorneys of California over the rules governing lawsuits, both in the Legislature and in ballot measures.

“When we began in 1995 we were barely even recognized in the Legislature,” Sullivan said in an interview after announcing his retirement. “We had a substantial amicus program and we didn’t have too much else. But since then, we’ve built a highly respected legislation operation…and we’ve gotten into political campaigns in a very winning way.”

Sullivan co-chaired successful ballot measure campaigns in 1996 and 2000 against his perpetual foes in the trial bar, including a referendum that overturned a law backed by attorneys and signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis to expand third-party liability.

Sullivan, who earned a journalism degree, worked as a reporter and later received a law degree, entered the Capitol community in 1977 as a staff member for the California Taxpayers Association. An avid fly fisherman, he was appointed chief deputy director of the Department of Fish and Game by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992. He had served Wilson’s predecessor, George Deukmejian, as undersecretary of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency after Deukmejian’s election as governor in 1982.

He left the Wilson administration to join the Civil Justice Association of California.

After retirement, Sullivan pursued fly fishing and auto racing and became an ardent beekeeper who kept his friends supplied with honey. His survivors include his wife, Kathy, and two children, Megan Dill and Brendan.

Services have been set for March 5 at 2 p.m. in Carmichael Presbyterian Church, 5645 Marconi Ave, Carmichael.

This post was updated at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 25, 2016 to clarify that Deukmejian appointed Sullivan to the Business, Transportation and Housing position and Wilson to the Department of Fish and Game.

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