Bay Area Conference Offers Rare Debate Insight

By Sara Warner

CCM Publisher

In the insular world of civil justice legal conferences, you usually end up surrounded by either the “defense” or “plaintiffs” side of the ledger. It can lead to a false sense of consensus, with everyone agreeing on the basic goodness and obvious common sense of their arguments.

That’s why the recent Perrin Conference in San Francisco was so very different. Officially billed as a “national overview” of asbestos-centered litigation, it nonetheless offered plenty of focus on California and benefited greatly by the participation of actual real-life judges. It’s not unprecedented for such events to include the judicial branch, but their presence is rare and seemed significant when both sides of the issues were in full debate.

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Stat Report Getting Very Cautious Reception

That Court Statistics Report we’ve noted earlier is getting a very, very cautious reception in the justice community. Look for serious spinning later, but for now we’ll offer an example that illustrates the mood. The MetNews has a good story with highlights from the report, and this statement from Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the significant Executive and Planning Committee:  “The Court Statistics Report is a useful reference document that provides an annual snapshot of statewide filings data and indicates multi-year trends… the raw data raises questions that require more in-depth analysis before drawing any conclusions.”
So there. Justice Miller, after noting that more analysis is required, also noted that minds are made up on a couple of things. “Although we’re uncertain about the conclusions, council members and our justice system partners are certain about how budget cuts have affected the public and have impacted access to justice—including reduced hours and closed courtrooms, fewer law enforcement officers on the street, and the reallocation of resources to focus on certain case types or services.”
Read the MetNews report here.

San Joaquin Small Claims Court Re-Opens

Like many counties, including Los Angeles, the San Joaquin County Superior Court laid off workers and closed courtrooms in anticipation of budget cuts. Unlike many counties, including Los Angeles, that system is no re-hiring some of those workers and re-opening courtrooms. In particular, the county is resuming Small Claims Court, which was entirely stopped in the face of budget shortfalls. 
Presiding Judge Dave Warner told the Stockton Record newspaper that “… they should have never stopped to start with, but at some point, when you run out of money, something’s got to give.” The paper also reported that “… the court also is in the process of rehiring 17 staff members who had been laid off during recent recessionary years. Since 2011, the court had reduced its staff by 55 positions.”

The first task? Dealing with 1,200 cases that have been filed but shelved because there was no court. Read the Record’s report here.

Caseload Report Out, Will Have Budget Implications

The California “Courts Statistics Report,” or CSR, is out, and this year the formerly obscure document is bound for new attention as it will become part of a new budgeting formula. In a desperate attempt to put some level of oversight into how the courts spend money, especially on the civil courts, the new budget laws will take into consideration caseloads as reflected in the report. In general, the overall Superior Court case filings are actually down overall, but most of that comes from relatively simple cases like small claims. The more resource-intensive complex cases continue to increase.
Doubtless more analysis of the information will be produced soon. At first read, it seems there’s plenty of information for virtually any political argument, depending on perspective. For example, are the more simple cases, which are more often filed by individuals rather than lawyers relative to more complex cases, “down” because we’re all getting along? Or are more people just walking away because we’ve cut assistance in filing such cases, or because they couldn’t endure the filing line.

Courts Monitor Publisher Participates In New Film

California Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner was interviewed last week for a new documentary by Wayne Ewing, the award-winning filmmaker perhaps best known for his series of biopics on Hunter S. Thompson, creator of “gonzo journalism.” Ewing has also produced and directed several political documentaries, including a pair of judicial-focused films in 2004 called “Benched” and “The Last Campaign.”
In text accompanying the interview, the filmmaker explains that he hoped to begin principal photography on a new project during a San Francisco legal conference, but that he was not admitted. However, he adds, Sara Warner was. Find the interview, and more about the documentary and Ewing Films, here.

Long Beach Courts Move To New Public-Private Built Building

In an era of closing courthouses, a new one has opened. The $340 million, 531,000 square foot facility opened this week near the five-decades-old courthouse it’s replacing. It features two dozen courtrooms and will no doubt raise debate over how to pay for improved facilities. That is because it is the first to be built as a public-private partnership, complete with retail space.
The new Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach. (Photo was published in the Los Angeles Times article "No rats and no lines, new Long Beach courthouse opens for business" on September 9, 2013.)

The new Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach. (Photo was published in the Los Angeles Times article “No rats and no lines, new Long Beach courthouse opens for business” on September 9, 2013.)

The deal is that a group of real estate developers actually build the courthouse, paying for construction up front, and the state pays the cost plus interest over the next 35 years. Some critics of California’s court management say the public-private deal illustrates that the state is not all that great at building things. The Los Angeles Times covered the courthouse opening without noting the massive cost overruns of the state-only construction effort, but it did note that staffers were pushing leather chairs from one courthouse to the next.


Check out the story here

Litigation Rush Brings Another Firm To L.A.

The delays and backups in California civil courts might be hitting families and small-claims litigants hard, but the big boys continue to find the state a welcoming venue. The latest is DOAR Litigation Consulting, a complex-case consulting firm which announced that it both acquired a Houston-based firm and opened an office in downtown L.A. 
From the company’s press release: “‘Lawsuits of major significance are being adjudicated in California and Texas,’ says Paul Neale, chief executive officer of DOAR. For instance, citing a 2013 Fulbright & Jaworski Litigation Trends Survey, Mr. Neale says 56% of U.S. technology companies faced at least one $20 million-plus lawsuit in 2012, a steep rise from only 18% in 2011. These firms are heavily concentrated in California’s Silicon Valley as well as in Austin, Texas. Across all industries, the number of companies facing at least one lawsuit where more than $20 million was at stake rose from 23% in 2011 to 31% in 2012, according to the Fulbright & Jaworski survey. The study also points out that the number of oil and gas companies reporting that 50 or more lawsuits have been filed against them over the past year has doubled to 27% since 2011.”
The company has other stats about California and Texas lawsuits, noting that area “… also popular venues for patent litigation filings. Nationally, the number of patent cases filed in 2012 soared 29% to a record 5,189 cases, according to PwC’s 2013 Patent Litigation Study, with Texas and California courts accounting for nearly 40% of them. The Texas Eastern Federal District Court in particular is perceived as “plaintiff-friendly,” and because patent holders are able to “shop” for favorable venues, despite efforts to deter the practice, it was the venue for 22% of all patent-related suits filed in the U.S. in 2012.”

For anyone waiting more than a year for fairly basic civil litigation to find a day in court, we can welcome DOAR to the waiting room. Find their press release here.

ADA Case Tackles Major Access Liability Issue

If a person with disabilities is denied access in violation of the state’s Disabled Persons Act (CDPA), should they receive compensation just once for the violation or for each time they encountered the violation? A Long Beach resident is arguing the later, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is asking the California State Supreme Court for help understanding an “ambiguous” law. The case involves a paraplegic who sued over improperly curb cut-outs, and he argues that he should be paid for each time he encountered the problem. A lower court ruled the other way, awarding $17,000; he says the number should be $440,000. 
The case might be seen as important in the wake of California court closures and cutbacks. One of the legal arguments against the changes is that people with disabilities are, in effect, denied access to the courthouses. As one observer noted: If they moved the wheelchair ramp across the parking lot, that would be a violation. So why not if they move it 25 miles away?” This case might imply that liability goes beyond a single penalty to include each time a person is denied access, a significant change.
As usual, Tim Hull at The Courthouse News makes the complex easy… read it here

California Courts Monitor ‘Special Report’ Update now on stands and available for download

When we published our printed “Special Report” earlier this year, it detailed a court crisis facing a difficult season. Sometimes, it seemed that the looming cuts, coming after years of cuts, were mostly positioning for the ongoing state budget battle. In addition to our daily online offerings, we promised to update the print report at the end of summer, so that’s what we did, and it is now available in local coffee shops and newsstands or you can download it by clicking here

The takeaway? It was as bad, and sometimes worse, than expected. An environment of fear and insecurity only became more so. And we marveled at the number of people who would talk about courts issues, but only on condition we never name them. Think of that. These are people who are mostly afraid that judges — judges! — will actually punish them for voicing opposition. And some of those fearing retribution are lawyers.

In this Update, we have included more new material than we intended and highlighted one of our judicial profiles in a blatant attempt to show relevancy to a new audience — the national civil courts community. You can access the original here on our website or contact us directly at for a printed copy.

And let us also say Thank You for the warm reception and backroom briefings prompted by our coverage. Our pledge is to get better and that our mistakes will be those of the head, not the heart. 

Courts Monitor launching national edition

The California Courts Monitor, “your daily ration of civil justice rationing,” is launching a national edition. The National Courts Monitor will bring the same focus to the crisis in United State’s civil courts as it has to California courts, according to Publisher Sara Warner.  

The announcement was made in San Francisco Friday and timed to accompany a national asbestos litigation conference. The CCM also released an “update” of its Special Report on the California civil courts funding crisis, a newspaper-styled print edition that was distributed in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The publisher also announced that the website will begin producing similar print editions that focus on specific events, including state budget hearings and legal conferences.
“We’ve evolved into an online community resource for the civil courts community and our goal is to build on that,” said Warner. “And part of that is the combination of online and print.”
The national edition, she added, will also produce print editions focused on specific civil justice events or issues, especially when they involve funding the justice system.

She said the NCM will begin publishing online in the first quarter of 2014, quipping “is that vague enough for you?” The California website began publishing with a more general courts focus in 2012, but shifted to civil courts funding issues as a spate of budget cuts slashed through the judicial system. In addition to daily aggregation updates and occasional original reporting, the CCM has produced two newsprint products fashioned as “special reports” on courts issues.