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Addendum to Post # 17: If You Are Not a Party to a Lawsuit, Good For You! However, if You Are or Ever Will Be, Well, Bless Your Heart.

Written by Patricia I. James**

Yesterday, I attended a Case Management Conference (“CMC”) (See Post # 3) in Riverside. I drove there. I know I should have made a telephonic appearance as did the two opposing counsel. However, it is so invigorating to get up at 5:00 a.m., hit stop and go traffic on the I-215, breathe in the exhaust fumes and just barely make it to court at 8:30 a.m. Nothing like that adrenaline rush.

Two things occurred at the hearing which were interesting, at least, to me. First, there was actually a court reporter at the hearing in Riverside. Although I have only attended two or three hearings in San Diego County since the cessation of court reporters, each time it has seemed strange to not see them. Now it seemed odd to see one. I guess the ax has not come down yet in Riverside County.

Second, in the case before me, the court had ordered a trial to commence in October. One of the attorneys asked if it could be set sooner. The judge laughed and told him he should appreciate getting a date so soon. The judge went on to say that, in a year, they will probably start being set about five years out.

On that note, at the end of November, I attended a seminar entitled “Changes to the San Diego Superior Court Civil Justice System” presented by the Honorable Robert J. Trentacosta, Presiding, and the Honorable Jeffrey B. Barton, Supervising, Civil. It was held at what is now the old San Diego County Bar Association. The room was packed.

I was taking copious notes on points that I had not included in Post #17. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find them. I would say that I looked everywhere but, since I didn’t find them, I obviously haven’t.

I will admit that I should have written a post shortly thereafter so it would have been fresh in my mind. However, that’s water under the bridge. Fortunately, one of my paralegals, Erin, also attended so her notes are helping to bail me out.

Among other things, we learned that the number of calendar clerks are being reduced by fifty percent. In addition, the staff will be required to take furlough leave two days a month. That means unpaid.

What stands out in my mind was Judge Trentacosta saying that Los Angeles County is shutting ten…..courthouses. My fingers want to type ten courtROOMS since that seems plausible. But ten courtHOUSES? How in the world is that going to work? According to Erin’s notes, the Los Angeles judges will have eight thousand (8,000) cases….each.

As it were, the case loads have increased exponentially for the judges in San Diego County. My understanding is that each judge has over one thousand (1,000) cases. Although that pales in contrast to the workload of the Los Angeles judges, it is still ridiculous.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the San Diego County judges’ case load has doubled to 1000, and , if you take into account that they will only have 50 percent of the prior calendar clerks, well, you do the math.

Nonetheless, there were a few happy announcements. First, Judge Trentacosta said that, at least for the foreseeable future, if we had cases ready to go to trial, the judges would be ready to hear them. There would not be a delay. I personally do not understand how that can be, what with all of the cuts, but if Judge Tentracosta says it is so, who am I to argue?

Second, beginning this year, when a complaint is filed, a CMC date will be assigned that will need to be served with the initial filing documents, i.e., the complaint and summons. Plaintiffs’ counsel will know that these will have to be served in sufficient time before the CMC so that an answer or demurrer will have been filed by the defendant(s). This means that there will no longer be Order to Show Cause hearings to state why the defendant(s) have not been served within 60 days of filing the complaint. This will eliminate the need to file Certificates of Progress; Inability to Respond; Inability to Default form.

(Simply put, the above referenced form had to be filed by Plaintiff’s counsel by the end of the 60 days explaining to the court why, for example, the complaint had not been served on the defendant(s) or why entry of default or entry of judgment had not been requested. On the other hand, defense counsel would use this form to state that the Defendant had been served but was unable to answer or otherwise respond. Either counsel filing this document would then put on the form how much more time was needed to accomplish what had not been done by them, e.g., two weeks, 30 days, 60 days, etc. The judge could either grant it or, if denied, set a hearing).

Third, in the second quarter of this year, San Diego County will start accepting e-filings (of which Erin is very excited). This will include complaints and summons. It will enable the court to process documents five times faster.

Speaking of which, while I was at the Riverside Court, I needed to obtain some documents from a case which was similar to one in which I am involved. I mistakenly went to the criminal business office but was nonetheless helped by a clerk there.

I gave her the case number and explained the documents I wanted copied. She looked them up on her computer since everything has been saved electronically. Before I knew it, she was apologizing that it would be a few minutes before the 138 pages came out of the printer. On top of that, she was going to staple all of the documents for me which I declined. I knew she had more important things to do.

The reason this was stunning is that, when I go to the business office in San Diego to obtain documents, I have to fill out a slip with the case number, give it to the clerk and he or she retrieves the file(s). I then have to sit down and go through the files to locate the documents I want copied, paper clip them, give the files back to the clerk and then they make copies. This can take an inordinate amount of time.

So isn’t it time for San Diego County to catch up with Riverside? But, I guess, what with the budget constraints, it won’t be happening any time soon.

**No portion of this Post is intended to constitute legal advice.  The views expressed are solely those of the author.