2016 Platform: Civil Justice
California Democrats support a strong and accessible civil justice system to defend public health, safety and the environment, and to vindicate the rights of consumers, injured persons, employees, and all of our citizens equally. The Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury in civil cases was intended by the Framers to put a check on the potential abuse of power by the government and place control in the hands of “the common people.”
In recent years, our civil justice system has come under concerted attack by corporations shielding themselves from civil liability for wrongful conduct by using their money and power to deny everyday people fair access to the courts. The attack on Seventh Amendment rights has come under the false and misleading cloak of “tort reform.”
To reverse these attacks on the rights of our citizens to seek full and fair justice through the courts, California Democrats will:
- Oppose forced arbitration and support passage of the Arbitration Fairness Act that provides that “no predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment dispute, consumer dispute, or civil rights dispute;”
- Support of the right of the people to join together in class actions and condemn the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant that gave corporations the right to prohibit class actions against them by consumers and employees and force such individuals to arbitrate all claims;
- Trust juries to determine the appropriate level of compensation for a prevailing plaintiff in a lawsuit, oppose any arbitrary limits on damages that a jury may award, and support review of the impact on raising current limits on pain and suffering damages on victims and providers in medical malpractice; and,
- Seek to end the use of confidentiality clauses in settlements involving matters of public health and safety.
'Justice delayed is justice denied’ is the reality that California’s civic justice system will continually face without budget reforms and state budget reprioritization. Budget cuts to California’s Judicial Branch means extended waits for civil lawsuits and legal issues that touch everyday lives – divorces, child custody hearings, conservatorships, probate, traffic hearings, and small claims – in extreme examples from several months to several years.
Multi-lingual legal assistance for people who represent themselves as well as for family law centers which provide assistance in divorce, child custody, child support, and domestic violence cases have been cut, effectively eliminating access to the courts for immigrant communities.
California Democrats believe that fair and equal access to justice is a right in a democratic society. The undue delays in the current civil justice system means that only the wealthy will be able to afford to utilize the civil justice system and families already in crisis will face insurmountable circumstances that are likely to place the most vulnerable family members in continuing volatile living conditions.
To restore fair and equal access to the civil justice system for all Californians, California Democrats will:
- Support restoration of full funding for the Courts;
- Support reforms to the Administrative Office of the Courts that will place more resources to helping individuals and reduce managerial operations;
- Support fair and reasonable alternatives to litigation such as alternative dispute resolution so long as such alternatives are fully voluntary and not coerced;
- Support expedited trial tracks; and,
- Support giving higher priority to cases involving individual and small business plaintiffs over cases involving corporate plaintiffs, including family law and probate cases, until full court funding is restored.