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UPDATE ON THE USE OF CALIFORNIA'S EXPEDITED JURY TRIALS OPTION

– By Sharon L. Hightower

Since the signing of Assembly Bill 2284 by the Governor in late September of 2010, the California Judicial Council has approved the statutory language and rules of court applicable to the Expedited Jury Trials in California. With the new law effective as of January 1, 2011, and the local policies and procedures required to be in place by July 1, 2011, litigants will have all of the tools needed to achieve a more cost efficient and effective method of resolving disputes, including forms available through the Judicial Council or the local courts. So far, implementation by litigants includes several cases in Southern California and one case in Northern California that have successfully used this new option.

The law for the Expedited Jury Trials in California has been codified as California Code of Civil Procedure 630.01 through 630.12. The statutes cover everything from the definitions regarding EJT, the consent order and agreements, the number of jurors, the deliberations of the jury, the rules of evidence that apply, the binding nature of the proceeding, to the waiver of certain motions and appeal rights. For some, the critical statute is one that establishes a Sunset provision which will repeal the statutes after five years unless some action is taken by the legislature.

The procedural process for the Expedited Jury Trials in California is provided through California Rules of Court, Rules 3.1545 through 3.1552. The procedures include the specific timelines for submitting documents for trial, the timelines to be observed for voir dire and trial itself, and the appointment of judicial officers for the EJT.

The types of cases that would be appropriate for the Expedited Jury Trial are essentially limited jurisdiction matters or those with values ranging from $25,000 to $75,000. It would also be appropriate when there is no issue as to liability but only a dispute as to damages, or vice versa. It is contemplated that 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 by which proceeding through the EJT process would be cost effective and efficient, for the parties and insurance carriers alike.