On September 30, 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 2284 known as the Expedited Jury Trials Act which will become Code of Civil Procedure section 630.01 et seq. Per the statute, the Act will take effect on January 1, 2011 and self-expire on January 1, 2016 unless a later-enacted statute deletes or extends the date.
What Does it Mean?
The Act establishes a system for voluntary participation in streamlined, expedited jury trials requiring mutual consent of the parties, before a reduced-sized jury panel and judicial officer with the goal of completing a trial in one day and where the result will be binding on the litigants.
How Does it Work?
Parties agreeing to the expedited trial would have to agree to 1) a jury of eight jurors (or fewer in some circumstances) with no alternates, and to be limited to three peremptory challenges, 2) having no more than about three hours in which to present their cases, and, 3) to waive their rights to appeal, to move for directed verdict, or to make post- trial motions except under circumstances specifically set forth in the statute (jury or judicial misconduct, etc.) Expedited jury trials will typically involve “high/low agreements”, a written agreement entered into by the parties specifying a minimum amount of damages a plaintiff is guaranteed to receive from the defendant and a maximum amount of damages that the defendant will be liable for regardless of the ultimate verdict returned by the jury.
What are the Benefits?
Rising costs of litigation have presented an ongoing challenge in providing access to justice for civil litigants especially those whose claims involve smaller amounts. Traditional trials can be time-consuming and extremely expensive for litigants and the courts, for many litigants alternative dispute resolution techniques have not been successful, and the backlogs of civil cases in some California venues have become severe.
The Right Fit
The system has the potential to dramatically reduce trial costs in matters that are the right fit for the program and to accelerate the timeframe for getting smaller value civil cases to trial. We look forward to working with you to explore the opportunities and potential cost-savings afforded by the expedited trial program.
The concept of the expedited, small-sized jury trial was first conceived of by the plaintiff and defense bars in Charleston County, South Carolina in the late 1990s. The bill signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger is patterned after the South Carolina model.
The Judicial Council, the Small Civil Claims Working Group and Small Claims Advisory Committees began meeting to determine if there were options available that would benefit Californians and the courts. Representatives from the courts, attorney organizations, the bar, insurance companies, legal aid and business and consumer groups examined this concept carefully and members of the defense and plaintiff bar alike are excited about and supportive of this alternative to the traditional jury trial when the right case presents itself.