BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                  AB 2284
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          Date of Hearing:  March 23, 2010

                           ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY
                                  Mike Feuer, Chair
                 AB 2284 (Evans) - As Introduced:  February 18, 2010

                                  PROPOSED CONSENT
           
          SUBJECT  :  VOLUNTARY EXPEDITED JURY TRIALS   

           KEY ISSUE  :  SHOULD CALIFORNIA ESTABLISH, THROUGH THE  
          SPEARHEADING OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, A VOLUNTARY ALTERNATIVE  
          PROCESS FOR HANDLING CIVIL ACTIONS THAT WILL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE  
          PARTIES WITH THEIR DAY IN COURT, OFFER POTENTIALLY SUBSTANTIAL  
          COST SAVINGS TO THE PARTIES, REDUCE THE BACKLOG OF CIVIL CASES,  
          AND MORE EFFICIENTLY MANAGE JURY RESOURCES AT A TIME WHEN OUR  
          TRIAL COURTS ARE ESPECIALLY STRESSED?

           FISCAL EFFECT  :  As currently in print this bill is keyed fiscal.

                                      SYNOPSIS

          As the author notes, the rising costs of litigation presents an  
          ongoing challenge in providing access to justice for a number of  
          litigants, especially those with claims involving relatively  
          small amounts in dispute.  Traditional trials can be time  
          consuming and expensive for both litigants and the courts.   
          Moreover, for many litigants, alternative dispute resolution has  
          not proven successful in resolving the cases prior to trial.  AB  
          2284, the byproduct of continuing working groups discussions  
          sponsored by the Judicial Council, ultimately seeks to authorize  
          the Judicial Council to adopt rules of court, along with the  
          Legislature enacting any needed statutory changes, for a  
          voluntary alternative, streamlined method of handling civil  
          actions that still allows parties to get their day in court.  In  
          its introductory form, the bill merely authorizes the Judicial  
          Council to adopt rules of court to establish procedures for  
          conducting expedited jury trials in civil cases where the  
          parties stipulate that those rules and procedures shall apply,  
          including provision for a jury of fewer than 12 members.

           SUMMARY  :  Seeks to provide, through a Judicial Council  
          spearheaded collaborative effort, a streamlined method of  
          handling civil actions that still allows parties to get their  
          day in court.  Specifically,  this bill,  in its introductory form  








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          only, authorizes the Judicial Council to adopt rules of court to  
          establish procedures for conducting expedited jury trials in  
          civil cases where the parties stipulate that those rules and  
          procedures shall apply, including provision for a jury of fewer  
          than 12 members.

           EXISTING LAW  establishes the right to a trial by jury, and  
          provides that a jury may be waived in a civil case only pursuant  
          to specified manners.  A jury trial consists of 12 persons,  
          except that in civil actions and cases of misdemeanor, it may  
          consist of 12 or any number less than 12, upon which the parties  
          may agree.  It further provides for the review of a judgment or  
          order in a civil action or proceeding by appeal, and requires  
          the Judicial Council to prescribe rules for the practice and  
          procedure on appeal consistent with state law.  

           COMMENTS  :  This bill seeks to become a vehicle that ultimately  
          reflects a broad and unusual consensus of key court users  
          supporting a new voluntary and innovative process to streamline  
          the handling and resolution of some civil actions.  In its  
          opening incarnation, however, the bill merely authorizes the  
          Judicial Council to adopt rules of court to establish procedures  
          for conducting expedited jury trials in civil cases where the  
          parties stipulate that those rules and procedures shall apply,  
          including provision for a jury of fewer than 12 members. 

          In support of the measure moving forward as such a hoped-for  
          vehicle, the author states:

               The rising costs of litigation presents an ongoing  
               challenge in providing access to justice for a number  
               of litigants, especially those with claims involving  
               relatively small amounts in dispute.  Traditional  
               trials can be time consuming and expensive for both  
               litigants and the courts.  Moreover, for many  
               litigants, alternative dispute resolution has not  
               proven successful in resolving the cases prior to  
               trial.  AB 2284 will ultimately seek to authorize the  
               Judicial Council, consistent with its existing  
               rulemaking authority, to adopt rules of court, along  
               with making any needed statutory changes, for a  
                voluntary  alternative, streamlined method of handling  
               civil actions that still allows parties to get their  
               day in court.  









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          This consensus effort is a potentially path-breaking development  
          in the state's civil justice system at a time when court  
          resources are at the breaking point in so many jurisdictions.   
          This fact was pithily noted in recent media coverage by veteran  
          Capitol reporter Cheryl Miller, who wrote recently in the  
          Recorder that:  

               Trial lawyers, the defense bar and their respective  
               allies don't usually agree on much. But a collegial  
               bunch of these courtroom adversaries have found common  
               ground in draft rules designed to speed up some civil  
               trials in California? A working group convened by the  
               Judicial Council is cobbling together the final  
               details of a so-called expedited jury trial system.  
               Based on a successful South Carolina model, the idea  
               is to identify relatively simple lawsuits, iron out  
               evidentiary and witness issues before trial and leave  
               the big issues for a smaller jury to decide over a day  
               or two? Proponents say the voluntary system would cut  
               litigation costs for plaintiffs, defendants and  
               insurance carriers?("Faster Jury Trials May Get Their  
               Day," Cheryl Miller, Recorder, March 17, 2010.)

           The South Carolina Model  :  According to the author's office, in  
          the late 1990s, the plaintiff and defense bars in Charleston  
          County, South Carolina, developed the model after which this  
          measure is patterned, which is an especially attractive  
          possibility for smaller civil cases.  The bars in that state  
          came together and established a voluntary, inexpensive,  
          accessible, and binding "summary jury trial" program.  It uses a  
          reduced jury size, flexibility including relaxed rules of  
          evidence, and often involves high/low agreements on the scope of  
          damages.  The Charleston County model has gained acclaim for its  
          enhancing access to courts, reducing costs for litigants, and  
          increasing court efficiency.  The model continues to have  
          support from the plaintiff and defense bars, as well as the  
          court, insurers, and businesses.  

          Using the Charleston County model as an overlay, the Judicial  
          Council's Small Civil Cases Working Group has reportedly  
          developed a streamlined method to make the administration and  
          resolution of civil cases more effective and efficient.  This  
          bill would authorize, consistent with its existing authority,  
          the Judicial Council to adopt rules of court providing for  
          expedited jury trials in California.








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          The goal of the expedited jury trial in California is to promote  
          the speedy and economical resolution of cases and conserve  
          judicial resources.  Like the Charleston County model,  
          participation would be completely voluntary, the applicable  
          rules of procedure would be flexible, and a reduced jury size  
          would be employed.  The goal would be to complete a trial in  
          approximately one day.   Based on the South Carolina experience,  
          as well as other jurisdictions that have used summary jury  
          trials, it is expected that the courts, and litigants, will see  
          significant cost savings, as well as a reduction in backlogs of  
          civil cases, and more efficiently managed jury resources.

           Likely Need For One Or More Legislative Authorizations for This  
          Innovative Approach, And Planned Return Of This Measure For  
          Further Committee Consideration Once It Is Further Fleshed Out  :   
          While it appears clear that many of the provisions of this  
          legislation may ultimately be crafted and enacted by Judicial  
          rules of court, it is also apparent that there likely will be a  
          need for various legislative authorizations for this innovative  
          addition to the civil justice toolkit.  The author therefore  
          appropriately acknowledges that there will ultimately likely be  
          the need for legislative authorization in some appropriate form  
          once the four corners of the measure are further fleshed out, at  
          which time she has agreed to bring the measure back to this  
          Committee for further hearing and review of the ultimate  
          consensus product, including any such additional legislative  
          authorizations.  

           ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT  :  Apropos of the broad consensus support  
          for this measure at this time are the comments submitted to the  
          Committee by the Consumer Attorneys of California, which  
          included that:

               This measure grants the Judicial Council the power to  
               establish a voluntary system of streamlined jury  
               trials modeled after a highly successful system in  
               South Carolina.  This bill has rallied a coalition of  
               stakeholders in the civil jury trial system to support  
               much needed relief from the current backlog.  The  
               growing backlog of civil cases on court dockets across  
               the state represents a glaring example of the adage  
               "Justice delayed is justice denied."

           REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION  :   








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           Support 
           
          California Defense Counsel (co-sponsor)
          Consumer Attorneys of California (co-sponsor)

           Opposition 
           
          None on file

           Analysis Prepared by  :    Drew Liebert / JUD. / (916) 319-2334