There are many reasons why a party might want to change the location of a trial. California law recognizes this desire for change of venue but limits it to only four grounds in CCP §397:
1. Case was filed in the wrong court. If the complaint is filed in the wrong court, the court must transfer the action to any proper court requested in timely motion by the defendant. CCP §396b(a). To determine whether the action has been filed in the wrong court, see CCP §§392-404.8.
2. A different location is more convenient for witnesses. The court has discretion to transfer an action to a different court if doing so will promote the convenience of witnesses and the ends of justice. Generally, only convenience to nonparty witnesses is considered. Courts usually don’t base their decisions on the convenience of
- parties or employees of parties unless the employee is a witness for an opposing party,
- expert witnesses with no personal knowledge of the facts, or
- counsel for the parties.
3. An impartial trial is impossible. The court has the power to change the place of trial if “there is reason to believe that an impartial trial cannot be had” in the court designated in the complaint. CCP §397(b). Although a party is entitled to a change of venue if it can show that local prejudice is of such a widespread nature that the court could conclude it would be impossible to have a fair trial, it’s frequently impossible to make such a showing until the party makes an unsuccessful attempt to select a jury.
4. There’s no qualified judge. The place of trial may be changed if there is no judge of the court qualified to act. CCP §397(d). As a practical matter this ground is rarely used. When no judge in the county is qualified to sit, the Chair of the Judicial Council may assign an outside judge to hear the matter. CCP §170.8.
For everything you need to know about making a motion to change venue in civil cases in California, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chap 20. On change of venue in criminal cases, you’ll need the “crim law bible,” CEB’s California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice, chap 15.
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