The California State Legislature this week approved a bill allowing for simplified jury trials, if the parties consent to such a procedure. (The bill is now awaiting the governor’s signature.) To utilize this procedure, parties would have to agree to a reduced number of jurors, a limited number of peremptory challenges, a very limited (3 hours per side) amount of time to present their case, a “high low” minimum and cap on the jury award, and strictly limited ability to file appeals and post-trial motions.
This sounds like a noble experiment in attempting to reduce the cost of jury trials, but I wonder how often such a procedure would be used. I think a lot of lawyers will be leery of entrusting their client’s fate to a jury without the protections of post-trial motions and appeals. I also think that since most of the litigation costs that deter parties from taking cases to trial are incurred prior to trial, shaving the costs of trial might not very much alter the parties’ calculations that determine whether or not to try the case. Still, for cases where both sides really want their fate determined by a jury, but who want to reduce the substantial costs of jury selection, number of trial days, motions and appeals, this idea could represent a viable option. I am generally in favor of reducing impediments and costs that prevent cases from getting to trial. This bill could provide one way to getting to that result.
(photo from BBC program, The Verdict)