Beginning on January 1, 2011, California jury trials may pick up speed. The Expedited Jury Trials Act (Cal Rules of Ct 3.1545-3.1552) provides an option for parties to have their cases be heard on a certain date, before a judge and an eight-person jury. Under the Act, voir dire will be much quicker, with each party having only three peremptory challenges. Each side will then have only three hours to put on its case—including opening and closing arguments. Verdicts, which need only be reached by six members of the jury, are binding unless the litigants discover evidence of fraud or misconduct.
In its Client Alert (.pdf) on the Act, law firm Morrison & Foerster explained that
the binding aspect of the trial is less worrying…because the parties must agree to a confidential “high-low” damages payment prior to trial. This arrangement guarantees plaintiffs a minimum payment, while capping the defendants’ potential exposure.
Expedited jury trials are clearly useful in small cases, but may also be a quick and cost-effective alternative to arbitration or a long trial in high-value cases when damages are undisputed, but liability is at issue. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary House, who chaired the group steering the legislation, noted that, in other states with expedited jury trials, they are being used in higher-value cases with results for both sides that are similar to those in longer trials.
Of course, many are skeptical as to whether parties will actually sign on to the expediated jury trial process, and wonder whether having the option will make any difference at all.
What do you think? Do you think this provides a useful alternative or just another idea that will go stale for nonuse?
On current jury trial procedures, go to California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial (3d ed Cal CEB 1995).
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