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Expedited Jury Trials – 2016 Updates and Expansion

In 2010, the Governor signed Assembly Bill 2284 establishing Expedited Jury Trials (EJT) in California. The Bill was codified in California Rules of Court, Rule 3.1545 through 3.1557 and added to the California Code of Civil Procedure as Chapter 4.5, §§630.01 to 630.12. The law was to be repealed on January 1, 2016. As the new 2010 trial option was promoted throughout the State, a number of concerns were raised by attorneys and insurance carriers, including the limitation of three hours for each party to go from opening statement to closing argument and the waiver of any appeal after verdict.

On September 28, 2015, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill No. 555 into law which has addressed the issue of the allotted time for each party, but has also taken the step of creating two separate categories for the expedited trials. The heading of Chapter 4.5 of Title 8 of Part 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure has been renamed as “Voluntary Expedited Jury Trials”. This category applies to those cases with claims exceeding $25,000 but that can be tried within a shortened period of time. Section 630.3 contains the change whereby each party in an agreed-to Expedited Jury Trial has five hours to complete voir dire and present their case. All other provisions for the voluntary expedited trial in such cases remain the same, including the waiver of any right to appeal except in special circumstances. Section 630.11 has been amended to require that the Judicial Council update the rules and forms by July 1, 2016 and section 630.12 has been repealed which extends the operation of the sections indefinitely.

The most dramatic change contained within the new law on Expedited Jury Trials is the addition of Chapter 4.6, entitled “Mandatory Expedited Jury Trials in Limited Civil Cases”. This chapter adds Sections 630.20 to 630.30 to the California Code of Civil Procedure requiring that any action or proceeding treated as a limited civil case, generally with a value between $10,000 and $25,000, shall be conducted as a Mandatory Expedited Jury Trial. The parties to the limited matter can opt out of the mandatory EJT under certain circumstances such as when there is a claim for punitive damages, damages in excess of an insurance policy, when a defense is provided under a reservation of rights, when there is a claim to a governmental agency or one that affects licensure, when there are claims of intentional conduct, when there are claims for attorney fees, or when a case is reclassified.

A verdict in such a case can be appealed to the appellate division of the superior court in which it was tried. The procedures for the mandatory EJT provides five hours for each party to complete voir dire and to present its case, the selection of one alternate along with a jury of eight members, a limit of four preemptory challenges, and the use of relaxed rules of evidence if agreed to by both sides. All other statues and rules regarding limited civil cases apply. Section 630.29 provides that the new sections will become operative on July 1, 2016 by which time the Judicial Council is directed to adopt rules and forms for implementation of the new law, including those for pretrial exchanges and submissions, pretrial conferences, opt-out procedures, and the presentation of evidence and testimony. Chapter 4.6 is to remain in effect until July 1, 2019.

An EJT, whether voluntary or mandatory, can result in a cost efficient and effective method of resolving disputes and ease the burden on our court system. The new law appears to answer the concerns of attorneys, the courts and insurance carriers alike in specific cases, but only time will tell.

Sharon L. Hightower is a senior partner in the San Jose office of Ericksen Arbuthnot and a strong proponent of the EJT, presenting seminars and articles on the program.