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Expedited jury trials measure goes to the governor

A bill to authorize expedited jury trials, a streamlined method for handling certain civil cases in a more cost-effective manner for the litigants and the courts, sailed through the legislature on a unanimous vote last month, enjoying the same level of support it has drawn from plaintiff and defense lawyers, as well as other parties typically involved in civil cases.

If the governor signs the bill, the Judicial Council will be authorized to create court rules that will be implemented Jan. 1.

Noreen Evans
Noreen Evans

The Expedited Jury Trials Act (AB 2284) would permit cases to be heard on a date certain, before a judge and a jury of eight. Each side will be limited to three peremptory challenges and must put on their case in three hours, including opening and closing arguments, with a goal of concluding the case in one day. Participation is voluntary, verdicts — reached by six jurors — are binding, and appeals and post-trial motions are strictly limited. The proposal was developed over 18 months by a wide-ranging Judicial Council group that included advocates who otherwise agree on little and is modeled on similar quick trials that have been offered in New York and South Carolina for at least five years.

Dan Pone, senior attorney in the Judicial Council’s Office of Governmental Affairs who shepherded the measure through the legislature, said it offers a win-win for all the parties. Plaintiffs get their day in court and cases are heard quickly and less expensively. Defendants and their insurance companies can get guaranteed maximum exposure and more finality.

The rules will apply to all counties, but each court will decide how to offer speedy trials. If the demand is high in larger counties, courts may create separate divisions or appoint a particular judge to handle the expedited trials.

Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who authored the bill, said it “saves the judiciary significant amounts of money and allows people to get their cases to trial and have their day in court. . . . There’s no reason for people to oppose it.” The measure came to fruition after two years of work by a coalition of defense counsel, consumer attorneys, and representatives of the judiciary and business who were able to hammer out a compromise before the bill came up for debate.

Evans, a former insurance defense counsel, worked with the same coalition to win passage last year of the Electronic Discovery Act, and said she is working on a number of issues “to modernize legal practice and save the judiciary money.”