For the last few months California has been charging a fee for civil jury trials. That's not so unusual as states attempt to close budget gaps but their method of charging makes it harder to take.
The fee is nonrefundable even if the case settles before trial. It's also due much earlier than in most cases. Parties have to pay at or before the initial case management conference.
The purpose of the fee seems to be just another way to balance the budget but it may end up costing the state more than it brings in.
The deadline for paying the fee is very early in the litigation process which means parties who think they might want a jury trial will have to pay it even if it later becomes unnecessary.
That's $150 already spent on trial that will never come back. While the fee remains the same, now it is almost a given it will have to be paid.
While the goal may have been to decrease the number of jury trials or at least better fund them, it may end up discouraging people from settling.
If someone files a suit against your company, pays the fee, and then is offered a settlement they're less likely to take it unless the settlement covers the fee. The same might happen if your company is offered a settlement in a big litigation case.
While a one-time $150 fee may seem small, it adds up quickly.
In some cases a jury trial may be worth the $150 fee but it should be part of your calculation every time litigation is a possibility. Do a quick cost-benefit analysis on whether a jury is worth that price in each specific case.
The California fee change was put in quickly but it is likely to stick around, especially if it proves to be effective at covering budget gaps. If that happens, keep an eye out for similar legislation in your state as well.
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