California Lawyer detailed the Expedited Jury Trail process and featured Eric Traut's powerful argument for more use of this very effective jury trial system. Read more...
Says the article: Justice works only if the time, space, and economic resources are available for court proceedings. But in recent years securing a courtroom for a jury trial has become a significantly greater obstacle.
For at least a generation, the number of civil jury trials has consistently declined. (See "The Death of the Civil Jury Trial," Los Angeles Daily Journal, May 8, 2014.)
To address the smaller, less complex cases in California, three years ago the Legislature created the Expedited Jury Trial (EJT) Program. (See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §§ 630.01-630.10; Cal. Rules of Court (CRC) 3.1545-3.1552.) Designed to help clear some of the congestion without infringing the right of access to a jury trial, the voluntary EJT is modeled after a similar program offered in South Carolina since the 1980s. (See "Short, Summary & Expedited," Nat'l Ctr. for State Cts. (2012).) Essentially, litigants give up the option of a directed verdict and some rights of appeal in exchange for a swifter trial.
Many of the lawyers, juries, and judges who have participated in EJTs report being very pleased with the efficient handling of the trials, as well as the high degree of protection given the rights of the parties.
How It Works
The process begins when all parties agree to a consent order that spells out the mandatory terms that will govern the EJT. The order also includes any additional agreements between the parties, including the amount of damages awardable, and stipulations regarding the introduction of witness statements, medical records or reports, and expert testimony via declaration. (See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 630.03; and CRC 3.1547.)
The day of the trial, the judge serves as timekeeper .(CRC 3.1549.) One hour is devoted to voir dire: The jury shall include eight or fewer persons, with no alternates; each side has three peremptory challenges. The votes of at least six jurors are required to reach a verdict (or fewer if the parties so stipulate). (§§ 630.04, 630.07(b).)
Each side gets three hours to present its case, including opening statements and closing arguments, unless the court allows more time. These limits include time for cross-examination of adverse witnesses. To save costs, the parties are encouraged to simplify presentation by stipulation. Parties are urged to make use of summaries, electronic submissions, and "innovative methods of presentation" approved at a pretrial conference. (CRC 3.1551.) As the rules reinforce, the "goal is to complete an expedited jury trial within one full trial day." (CRC 3.1550.)
By agreeing to an EJT, the parties waive the right to move for a directed verdict, or to set aside a verdict, or to seek a new trial on the basis of inadequate or excessive damages. (§ 630.08.)
The jury can deliberate as long as needed (§ 630.05), and the deliberations do not count against the six hours provided to present the case. The result is binding, and for the most part cannot be appealed. (§ 630.09.)
Flexibility. As long as the consent order includes the mandatory requirements, counsel are free to shape the trial to best meet their needs.
Certainty. EJTs are nearly certain to get a courtroom on the initial date they are set for trial, and frequently they are tried before any other case on that day's calendar.
Finality. Unlike arbitration, expedited trials allow no de novo request and very few posttrial motions. There is no appeal except for judicial or juror misconduct, fraud, corruption, or other undue means that prevent a party from having a fair trial. (§ 630.09(a).)
Savings. Perhaps the most obvious advantage of an EJT is the inherent lower cost for clients, counsel, as well as the court.
By addressing issues of cost and delay in the courts, the EJT is an effective tool for preserving access to a jury trial. Hopefully, more trial attorneys and judges will take advantage of this procedural option to better serve their clients and the cause of justice.
Eric V. Traut, a partner at the Traut Firm in Santa Ana who specializes in plaintiffs injury litigation, has tried four expedited jury trials.