Michigan attorney general subpoenas Toyota records; wants information on fatal Flint accident

By Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Michigan attorney general subpoenas Toyota records

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox sent a subpoena to Toyota on Wednesday asking for records regarding sudden unintended acceleration and a fatal accident in Flint.

Cox, a Republican who is running for governor, has been working with attorneys general in other states to see if civil lawsuits or other steps should be taken to protect Toyota owners.

“We want to ensure that Michigan consumers received all the information they should have known about under state law” before they bought their Toyotas or brought them in for repair, Cox said in a statement.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide over sudden unexpected acceleration. The Japanese automaker did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday seeking comment.

One of those lawsuits has been filed regarding a fatal accident in Flint.

“The attorney general is not taking a position on this matter, but would like to review more information from the case,” Cox’s news release said.

How Toyota’s troubles should be handled has become something of a political issue in Michigan, home to the three domestic automakers in the Detroit area and to the Toyota Technical Center near Ann Arbor.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero has been pushing Cox to aggressively go after the Japanese automaker, saying in a statement last week that Cox should file a claim on behalf of all owners of Toyota vehicles in Michigan and seek to recover damages under state and federal consumer protection laws.

“If Mike Cox won’t stand up for Michigan consumers and hold Toyota accountable for these reprehensible actions, he isn’t doing his job,” Bernero said. The Lansing mayor heads the Mayors and Municipalities Automotive Coalition, an advocacy group for communities that depend on the domestic auto industry.

John Sellek, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, brushed off Bernero’s criticism.

“If he made a phone call instead of a press release, he would understand we already secured extra help for recall victims and are working with other attorneys general on our next steps,” Sellek said.

The subpoena could lead to a civil suit being filed against Toyota by the attorney general’s office on behalf of Michigan consumers. But Sellek said Cox’s work on the subpoena begun far before Bernero began calling on Cox to launch an investigation.

“This took weeks and weeks to get ready, working with the national attorneys general,” Sellek said. “We’re not going to let a political stunt dictate how a legal process works.”

The subpoena requests numerous documents from Toyota, including those requested by the New Jersey attorney general in a similar subpoena issued Feb. 25.

Both Cox and Bernero face primary opponents.

Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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