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– By Sharon L. Hightower

Following the initiation of the Expedited Jury Trial option in the State Courts of California in January of 2011, the Northern District of California has now instituted an Expedited Trial Procedure through General Order No. 64 signed by Chief Judge James Ware. The Order and Procedure became effective on July 1, 2011.

The goal of the program is to have a case tried within six months of an agreement by the parties to proceed with an expedited trial. The District Court procedure does differ somewhat from the State Court program in that there are limitations on discovery, experts, the presentation of and length of pre-trial motions, and the conduct of jury selection. The Court has developed specific forms for the process including the Agreement for the Expedited Trial and Request for Approval, and the content of the Joint Expedited Case Management Statement.

The biggest difference between the District Court program and the State program is found in the limitations imposed on the parties. While the State procedures do not contain any limitations for written discovery or depositions, discovery in the District Court program is limited to ten interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions by each side. The parties are limited to fifteen hours of deposition time and the use of only one expert absent the agreement of the parties or through leave of court. The court must grant leave to file any pre-trial motions and the papers cannot exceed three pages. The judge asks all of the questions during jury selection and sets time limits for opening statements and closing arguments.

The programs are similar in that both are consensual and binding and the grounds for new trials and appeals are limited. Both programs allow a case to be tried to a judge or jury, that participation must be approved by the court, that the agreement is not to be revealed to the jury, that the jury will consist of six jurors or less and that each side is allowed three hours for the presentation of their case, including cross- examination. Post-trial motions in each venue are limited to recovery of costs and attorney's fees.

Termed by some as a "rocket docket," this is yet another effort by our courts to streamline the process of litigation by providing the expedited option with the attendant savings in costs and risks.

Questions will certainly arise at as to what type of case would be appropriate for the District Court Expedited Trial Procedure just as it has with the State process. It is contemplated that cases with a value of less than six figures, cases with singular issues of liability or damages, or issues regarding special questions (i.e., the validity of a clause in a contract or the force and effect of a provision in an agreement) are ideal for the process. The bottom line is that there are a number of cases in which proceeding through the Expedited Trial Procedure will result in benefits to the parties and insurance carriers alike.

More information about the program is available at the Court's website, www.cand.uscourts.gov.