On January 1, 2011 California will embark on a grand adventure when AB 2284 goes into effect. This legislation, which was enacted into law in September by the California Legislature, establishes Expedited Jury Trials ("EJTs"). While summary trials are not new, California's act seems to set it apart from others; the law applies to civil litigation where the parties (including insurance carriers) have signed a consent agenda that the EJT procedures apply. A recitation of the details of the bill are not part of this posting, but some of the provisions of interest to defense lawyers include: 1) a jury size of eight or less with no alternates, 2) a maximum of three preemptory challenges for each side, and perhaps the most interesting aspect, 3) a strict limit of three hours for each side to present its case. Verdicts are binding under the new law, and EJT procedures further require each side to waive its right to appeal as well as the right to file post-trail pleadings except in certain circumstances. One caveat: there is a hearing today, October 29th, with the California Judicial Council, to establish uniform procedures for EJTs. The provisions of AB 2284 do not change the California Rules of Evidence; discovery is permissible, and the jury has an unlimited time to deliberate. A three quarters agreement by the jury will result in a verdict. The procedural details of the law are found at CCP §§ 630.01-630.11.
California's judicial system has been among the states hit hardest by budget cuts, and perhaps the legislature finally realized that court holidays, court staff reductions and unfilled judicial vacancies equated to a lack of access to the civil justice system for rich and poor alike. One thing is certain if EJTs gain popular acceptance: the vanishing civil jury trial should begin to reappear in modified form.
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