How Are Court Budget Cuts Affecting Trial Dates? Too Soon to Tell.

May 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Around the Courthouse

It is too soon to tell if California civil trials will become an endangered species, as many have predicted, due to court budget cuts.

After the governor announced yet another round of cuts for California courts, a San Francisco Superior Court judge told me civil trials will take five years to get to trial — the statutory maximum delay — because criminal cases take precedence. In my own recent experience, a civil case set for trial April 16, 2012 in S.F. Superior was continued for five months because there were no courtrooms available that week. That’s not all that unusual for the San Francisco civil courts, even before the cuts.

One recent change is the elimination of court reporters for most courtrooms in San Francisco, Alameda, Los Angeles and many other counties. Lawyers now need to arrange for their own court reporters.

On the other hand, lawyers may be reacting too much, too soon to the doom-and-gloom forecasts. I got the following e-mail message sent May 18, 2012 on behalf of Kelly Dermody, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco:

We have been meeting with our San Francisco Superior Court as it continues to respond and adapt to reduced resources and staffing.  One of the messages we have heard from the Court is a concern that many litigants with trial dates are appearing on the day of trial unprepared to go forward, presumably because they have expected (erroneously) that no courtroom would be available due to budget cuts.  . . .  Accordingly, we hope you will spread the message widely that, at least for now, trial dates are holding and the Court expects (and the system needs) parties to be prepared for trial or to seek relief from trial dates sufficiently in advance of trial.

There you have it. Trials are still getting courtrooms — at least sometimes and at least for now. As I’ve often said, don’t assume your case is not going to start as scheduled. It’s a variant of Murphy’s Law. If you’re not ready for trial call, you are sure to be assigned a courtroom.

Which reminds me of a joke.

Woman (as it starts to rain):   Why don’t you open your umbrella?

Man:   It won’t help. It’s full of holes and leaky.

Woman:  Then why did you bring it?

Man:   I didn’t think it was going to rain.

About California Litigation Firm Newdorf Legal

David Newdorf is managing attorney of Newdorf Legal, which represents individuals, businesses and public entities in trials and appeals. The firm’s practice areas include business disputes, business torts/interference with contract, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, investment disputes, real estate, commercial landlord-tenant cases, and municipal law.

Mr. Newdorf worked previously as a trial lawyer and team leader in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office and was a litigation associate at a major international law firm. Mr. Newdorf was recently listed, for the second year in a row, in Northern California Super Lawyers magazine, an honor reserved for 5 percent of the State’s lawyers based on nomination by fellow lawyers and evaluation of professional reputation and achievement. In a more unusual accolade, Mr. Newdorf was named “Badass lawyer of the week” by The Recorder’s blog, LegalPad.

For all of your litigation questions, contact Newdorf Legal, a San Francisco business litigation law firm.

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San Francisco Superior Court Law & Motion Tips

Judges Peter Busch and Loretta Giorgi, who preside over the Law and Motion Departments at San Francisco Superior Court, provided useful tips and insights into the working of their courtrooms at a recent seminar. The take-away message: make it easy for the judge to rule in your favor. Be concise; avoid repetition; organize your brief with logical headings; organize the evidence with tabs; provide courtesy copies to chambers; if attacking the pleadings, attach those to your motion.

This is always sound advice, and even more so with the conslidation of courtrooms and judicial staff layoffs.

Here are some noteworthy tidbits from the Bar Association of San Francisco event:

  • Demurrers to answers, although permitted, seldom advance a case. Both judges discouraged them.
  • There is a backlog of unsorted mail in the clerk’s office. If you want or need the order on your motion filed, bring it to the hearing or bring it in ex parte.
  • Don’t file pro forma objections to every sentence of every declaration. Save evidentiary objections for points that matter. According to Judge Busch, parties are not entitled to rulings on every objection. Interestingly, Judge Giorgi said she reviews the objections — not the research attorneys.
  • The Court does not have West’s California Reporter — cite to the Official Reporter (Cal. and Cal. App.). Parellel cites are unnecessary.

“We will rule on more summary judgment motions in a month than you will write in a career.” Judge Peter Busch.

  • Unless your motion turns on an aspect of the legal standard for a motion — e.g., the shifting burden on summary judgment — you don’t need to recite the standard. The judges can recite that in their sleep.
  • The judges need your courtesy copies and will continue the hearing if any courtesy copy is missing. If you want to make sure the hearing goes forward, lodge both your briefs and the other sides briefs.
  • Judge Giorgi will often give a pro per litigant a break and continue the hearing if the unrepresented party did not give proper notice to opposing counsel of their intent to appear and contest the tentative ruling. Judge Busch generally will enforce the rule and adopt the tentative if proper notice was not given.
  • The judges used to have a bench memo from their clerks for every motion. With staff reductions and conslidation, the judges now handle approximately one-third of the motions from start to finish without a bench memo.


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For a free copy of our informative brochure, “The Top 10 Business Litigation Mistakes . . . and how to avoid them,” contact Newdorf Legal.

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