Image © The Recorder
Proposals to raise the jurisdictional limit for small claims courts from the current $1,500 to as high as $10,000 are meeting with mixed reactions in the Capitol and a general outcry from judges who say the limit probably should be raised, perhaps to $2,500, but that a $10,000 limit would cause turmoil in the courts and unrealistic burdens on judges.
In the waning weeks of the 1987 legislative session, lawmakers are considering as many as 62 bills to change California’s AIDS laws.
The bills range from mandatory testing for certain high-risk groups to relaxation of confidentiality laws and strong criminal penalties for AIDS-infected persons who give blood or commit sex crimes.
Lost in the Legislature’s debate over measures to require mandatory AIDS testing and criminalization of certain AIDS-related behavior are two bills that would provide an estimated $60 million for AIDS research in California.
The “products” are advertised as cures or treatments for victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and they range from the first milk of cows after they have given birth to a powder made from snakes that was found to contain salmonella bacteria.
“It’s not exactly the kind of thing you want someone with reduced immunity to take,” said California Deputy Attorney General Michael Botwin.
The state’s Legislative analyst reported Thursday that the State Bar of California’s proposed 1988 budget should be reduced by at least $1.2 million – a cut that would eliminate the need for planned dues hikes.
Instead of raising dues as much as $15 this year, only a $1 increase would be needed. Lawyers in the bar for more than three years now pay about $275 a year.
Insurance reform activists expressed pleasure Tuesday at a major state antitrust action against the insurance industry brought by California Attorney General John Van de Kamp.
Marvin Baxter has no experience as a trial court judge, but he wants to be a state appellate court justice in Fresno.
He figures his experience in the last five years has been just as valuable as time on the bench, and few would argue the point with him.
The California Assembly has approved annual dues of $417 in 1989 for most lawyers. The compromise measure, passed Thursday, includes a $110 assessment to finance improvements in the State Bar of California’s lawyer discipline program.
A bill to limit the contingency fees attorneys may charge in claims for damages based on non-medical negligence has been passed by the state Assembly and sent to the Senate.
The state auditor general has sharply criticized the state Insurance Department for inadequate oversight of insurance companies in California and for failing to take formal disciplinary action against errant firms.
Resignations and low morale among attorneys are hobbling the Los Angeles office of the State Bar of California’s Office of Trial Counsel (OTC) as the Bar works to streamline its lawyer discipline system, say lawyer familiar with the office.
Festering dissatisfaction among heads of several specialty sections in the State Bar of California over the Bar’s slow delivery of information on pending legislation has promoted the Bar to hire a private bill-monitoring service to handle work previously assigned to the agency’s Sacramento office.
Beating Up on Judiciary (PDF)
Accusations of misogyny are flying amid angry clashes over the handling of family law legislation by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which pro-feminist groups call a graveyard for their concerns.
The state Senate has unanimously passed a bill to attempt to keep children in school in order to prevent them from entering – or returning – to the juvenile justice system. The Bill goes before the Assembly when the Legislature returns from its summer recess next week.
Numerous technical changes in the landmark 1987 Trial Court Funding Act are contained in Assembly Bill 2640 by Speaker Willie Brown, D-San Francisco, which was approved last week by the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.
The hardball politics surrounding the confirmation battle over Gov. George Duekmejian’s nominee for state treasurer can be reduced to one word: money.
Under the regime of the “Big Daddy” of the California Legislature – the late state treasurer and Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh – the musty, ministerial, low-profile office of treasurer assumed staggering financial and political importance.
Disregarding a Sacramento Superior Court judge’s opinion that Gov. George Duekmejian does not have the authority to dismantle the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA), state officials have sent layoff notices to 22 employees of the embattled agency.
An initiative to limit runaway legislative campaign spending in California has a “better than 50-50 chance” of passage when it appears on the June 1988 ballot, according to a principal organizer of the long-awaited initiative drive.
Comprehensive revision of law affecting jury selection and management – including a provision to rescind last year’s sharp reduction in jurors’ per diem – passed the state Assembly last week.
In the final days of their session last year, legislators rushed into law the long-awaited Trial Court Funding Act of 1987.
Now, scarcely eight months later and months before the law is to take effect, in January 1989, the Legislature may change the $350-million program. Lawmakers are considering a blizzard of bills that could affect whether counties trade their court revenues for the state’s block grant.
Major tort reform legislation designed to head off a multimillion-dollar initiative fight next year was expected to be introduced on Friday, the last day of the legislative session, in a move blasted by consumer groups as “a backroom raid on victims’ rights.”
A coalition of consumer groups Wednesday made a tentative state toward qualifying a major insurance-reform initiative for the November 1988 ballot that would immediately cut liability premiums by 15 percent.
Legislation to crack down on the lobbying activities of former state officials – including legislators and legislative staff – will be introduced next week by Sen. Milton Marks, D-San Francisco.
The California Legislature convened Jan. 3 for its 1989-90 session to begin wrestling with a familiar panoply of issues affecting lawyers – and a few new twists on the intractable issues of sessions past.
Crumbling Opinions (PDF)
State Archives Chief John Burns carefully unrolls the century-old plans for San Quentin State Prison – the brittle, yellowed paper as timeworn as the old prison itself.
Like so many of the 110 million documents stored in the three-story archives building, the plans are irreplaceable and rapidly disintegrating.
In a sometimes combative session with news reporters Wednesday, the leadership of the California Trial Lawyers Association defended the closed-door process that led to significant changes in California liability laws on the final day of the 1987 legislative session.
The controversial closed-door process used to enact sweeping changes in California tort law on the final day of the 1987 legislative session was defeated Thursday by the president-elect of the California Trial Lawyers Association.
Supporters of child custody legislation that only scraped through the Legislature maintain that their bill does little more than clarify existing law, but some say it is designed to reverse excesses of the 1970s when joint custody arrangements were preferred.
California Defense Counsel, an organization of civil defense lawyers throughout the state, has announced “cautious support” for a nine-bill tort reform package which is also supported by the California Trial Lawyers Association.
Dental Debate (PDF)
Laurelyn Borst of San Francisco has a theory about why the dental profession so vehemently opposes the professional independence of dental hygienists.
“Most hygienists are female, and most dentists are male,” she said. “It’s like daddy’s little girl is leaving the nest and getting her own tree.”
In an order signed by five justices named to the California Supreme Court by Gov. George Duekmejian, the court Thursday set aside an appellate court ruling that Deukmejian acted illegally in eliminating that state’s worker safety program.
A measure requiring California judges to make public safety the main factor in the setting of bail, and to update bail schedules annually and uniformly has been signed into law by Gov. George Duekmejian.
A Pacific Gas & Electric Co. lawyer said Monday’s landmark settlement of four-year-old litigation over how to pay for cost overruns at the troubled Diablo Canyon nuclear plant was “not without pain” for the huge utility and its shareholders.
A new statewide Dispute Resolution Advisory Council, consisting of lawyers and mediation experts, Tuesday recommended broader use of alternative to costly litigation in an effort to unclog over-burdened courts.
Among more than 60 AIDS measure pending before the state Legislature, the most controversial and publicized bills are those of Sen. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, who introduced the 10 measures as the “1987 AIDS Prevention Program” last January.
A U.S. Sentencing Commission plan to eliminate disparities in federal sentences – a plan currently labeled Draft X” – drew mixed reviews Tuesday from members of the Bay Area legal community.
The inevitable blizzard of initiatives predicted by state insurance-reform experts earlier this year has begun in earnest, with seven major insurance initiative drives – variously representing insurers, trial lawyers, and consumers – now under way in California.
Ruth McNatt lost her daughter last year, when the young woman was knifed by a 16-year-old mental patient in San Bernardino County.
McNatt’s daughter, 24-year-old Karen Jones, left three young children – 6 year-old twin girls and a 4-year-old boy. Their father had abandoned them before their mother’s death. Karen Jones supported them by working as a waitress.
When Gilles S. Attia joined the Sacramento law firm of Weintraub, Genshlea, Hardy, Erich, and Brown five years ago, he started a securities, corporate and municipal finance department which consisted of four lawyers.
A nine-bill public-sector tort reform package designed to limit city and county liability was signed by Gov. George Deukmejian.
“These measures will help to protect local governments and volunteer organizations from excessive, and often unfair, damage awards in personal injury cases,” the governor said in a prepared statement.
In an effort to launch a statewide dispute resolution program to cut court congestion and litigation costs, Gov. George Deukmejian has appointed an advisory council and signed technical legislation.
Democratic legislative leaders Thursday endorsed a state attorney general’s opinion that a rejection by either house of the Legislature would be sufficient to reject a governor’s nominee for the post of state treasurer.
California Rural Legal Assistance Wednesday filed the fifth lawsuit to attempt to undo the Deukmejian administration’s controversial dismantling of the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
The governmental affairs office of the State Bar of California, absorbed in its legislative fight for a proposed dues increase, has been plagued by personnel disputes, staff turnover and low morale.
Insurance companies, trial lawyers and consumer groups nationwide say they expect to pour more than $50 million into California’s November electoral battle over five major consumer and industry-backed initiatives to restructure the state’s insurance laws.
Representatives of the insurance industry on Tuesday deluged state legislators with data to convince them that California should permit AIDS-antibody testing as a condition of obtaining policies.
Facing an uphill battle to convince voters they should trust insurance companies and vote for no-fault auto insurance – Proposition 104 on the November ballot – insurers’ campaign strategists are continuing to go for the jugular. Lawyers’ jugulars, to be precise.
With the Legislature unlikely to offer a solution to the crisis of escalating insurance rates, a bruising and expensive initiative campaign battle appears certain this fall.
“Efforts have been stated to enact legislation – some kind of compromise to compel proponents and opponents to withdraw their initiatives,” said Gene Erbin, counsel to the Assembly Judiciary Subcommittee on the Administration of Justice and a key capital insurance reform advocate.
Insurance reform legislation designed to stop wide variation in insurance premiums appeared to be derailed Wednesday for the rest of the 1987 session – a victim of the insurance industry’s enormous political clout in the California Legislature.
Backers of an agreement to limit large increases in insurance rates – the result of an unusual compromise hammered out during weeks of closed-door negotiations between consumer groups and the insurance industry – called Monday for emergency legislation to enact their accord.
The television advertisement attack on lawyers started last spring, fully eight or nine months before the November general election.
Sponsored by the well-funded insurance industry, they portray trial lawyers as greedy beyond redemption, blithely ripping-off clients and walking away with huge fees in accident cases – fees which the ads claim are paid by escalating insurance premiums.
In a moment of triumph, Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Anthony M. Kennedy flashed a grin and two thumbs up to journalists and a crowd of applauding students gathered Wednesday at McGeorge School of Law.
The state bar discipline monitor’s first report to the Legislature – 176 pages long with more than 250 pages of exhibits and the results of interviews with 100 persons – will be released Monday in a news conference at the state Capitol.
A bill to increase substantially a ceiling on attorney’s fees that can be collected in cases resulting from “arbitrary and capricious” administrative actions by public agencies has been proposed by Sen. Quentin Kopp, Ind.-San Francisco.
The measure, SB 1737, was introduced Thursday.
Pacific Gas & Electric has spent more than $70 million and the Diablo Canyon case was going nowhere until about a year ago, when the giant utility transferred control of the case from in-house counsel to consolidate it in the hands of Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers.
Legislation to impose stiffer sanctions against lawyers who pursue frivolous actions is under consideration in the state Legislature.
The exact terms of the possible legislation, which is expected to be amended into AB 245 by Judiciary Committee Chairman Elihu Harris, D-Oakland, have not been defined, but the issue is clear.
The beleaguered State Bar of California received more brickbats and even a few kudos Wednesday as the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed a bill to boost bar dues.
In 1984, the Corona City Council denied reporters access to its annual “retreat” in nearby Pomona.
Council members insisted the meeting did not violate California’s open-meeting laws because they took no action and the discussion was of a general nature. Reporters disagreed.
Three writers collaborating on a book were embroiled in a dispute about bills – a dispute so acrimonious that the three would barely speak to each other.
A graphic artists working with the feuding writers became alarmed about the future of the project and contacted a unique mediation service operated in San Francisco’s Fort Mason exclusively for artists, writers, and others in the arts.
The state’s public safety and legal programs, especially a bulging prison system, received major budgetary infusions in Gov, George Deukmejian’s proposed $44.3-billion 1988-98 state budget.
If what students learned in law school about legislative intent and state law were true, Thomas Stallard and William Keller would have been doomed to failure when they set out in 1974 to set up a firm dedicated to researching legislative history.
In an uncommon demonstration of legislative efficiency, a bipartisan, nine-bill tort-reform package has been whisked through key Assembly and Senate policy committees with negligible opposition.
Lawmakers who traditionally have been loathe to tinker with the right of citizens to amend state laws without involving the Legislature are considering reform proposals for Californians’ cherished 76-year-old initiative process.
Legislators Wednesday debated details of a massive proposed State Bar dues increase to finance an improved lawyer discipline system, but any consensus on the increase – which will raise the annual dues of most lawyers to $470 in 1989 – appears weeks away.
The chairman of a state legislative committee investigating employers’ appeals of worker safety violations said Tuesday that more than two-thirds of recently appealed cases were dropped of settled ” for ridiculously small amounts.”
A bill to expand the special-circumstances provisions of the state’s death penalty laws to include adults who kill witnesses in juvenile proceeding has cleared that state Senate.
The bill, SB44, by Sen. Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, now goes to the Assembly, where previous versions have died in committee.
Changes in California’s cherished 77-year-old initiative system have been proposed repeatedly in the state Legislature in recent years – and just as repeatedly rebuffed by lawmakers loathe to tinker with the hallowed right of citizens to play a direct role in making laws.
Legislation making school principals subject to misdemeanor prosecution if they fail to report crimes on their campuses is expected to be introduced this week as the California Legislature returned for its 1988 session.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has imposed its largest-ever fine against a prominent Sacramento lobbyist accused of using legislative sergeants-at-arms to deliver campaign contributions to lawmakers on the floors of Legislature.
The 1987 California legislative session is over.
Clayton R. Jackson, the state’s top lobbyist, sits in the office of his law firm, Jackson & Abrams, on the 22nd floor of a high-rise in San Francisco’s Financial District.
As of close of business Tuesday, the state controller’s office expected nearly all of California’s 58 counties to agree to participate in the voluntary Trial Court Funding Program by the Tuesday evening deadline for enrollment.
New ‘Big Daddy’ (PDF)
Clayton R. Jackson wasn’t elected to the state Legislature, nor has he ever been a member. Yet by some accounts he is one of its most powerful players.
“He really is the new ‘Big Daddy’ of the California Legislature,” says Special Assistant Attorney General Michael Strumwasser.
The massive California Civil Discovery Act – incorporating the most significant reforms in civil discovery procedures in three decades – was scheduled to take effect Wednesday.
More than 1,500 new California laws – most of which took effect Jan. 1 – were approved by Gov. George Deukmejian at the close of the 1987 legislative session, ranging from bizarre to the significant.
As comprehensive nine-bill tort reform package – an unusual and highly touted compromise worked out by cities, counties and trial lawyers in the waning weeks of the 1987 legislative session – is expected to be quickly passed by key Assembly and Senate committees this week.
A report by the state legislative analyst questioning the value of judicially mandated arbitration is being met with skepticism by county judicial officials who support mediation programs.
When Gregory Baugher decided to go to law school more than two decades ago, he broke a five-generation family tradition by not becoming a minister.
Instead, Baugher – soft-spoken with a courteous yet formal manner – has led a quiet life for the past 14 years as one of the state attorney general’s top deputies. His ministry – as opposed to his family’s – has been the arcane specialty of extradition law.
A bill to tighten loopholes in the state’s open-meeting laws was approved Wednesday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Administration of Justice.
The most extensive revision of the California Probate Code in nearly 60 years is moving toward passage as part of an omnibus measure sponsored by Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Elihu Harris, D-Oakland.
The bill, AB 2841, has cleared the Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. It is due for full Assembly action within a few weeks, after which it will go to the Senate.
Hidden within Proposition 101 and 104 are obscure provisions that critics say would require auto accident victims to exhaust other insurance benefits before seeking reimbursement of injury costs through their auto insurance policies.
A bill to exempt from public disclosure the identity of “private sector wage data” – collected by the city of San Francisco to set public-sector salaries – has been met with strong opposition from newspaper publishers as a violation of the Public Records Act.
The state Senate has approved 34 to 0 a bill to tighten loopholes in the state’s open-meeting laws and sent the measure to the Assembly.
The bill, SB 200 by Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, D-Los Angeles, would limit the circumstances under which local and state agencies can go into executive session to discuss “pending litigation.”
The Senate Local Government Committee Thursday heard disparate testimony on the impact of recent U.S. Supreme Court land-use decisions to determine if legislative action is necessary to resolve confusion over those decisions.
State Health and Welfare Agency Undersecretary Thomas Warriner believes it’s “serendipity” that led him to become Gov. George Deukmejian’s principal representative on enforcement of the controversial Toxics Initiative, passed by 63 percent of the voters in 1986 as Proposition 65.
Legislation to raise the small claims court limit in California to $2,500 by 1991 is expected to win approval in the state Senate next month after being heavily amended to next month after being heavily amended to satisfy the measure’s only opponents – collection agencies and insurance companies, which contribute heavily to legislative campaigns.
A state “whistle-blowers” hotline for reporting unethical or illegal activity by state employees has led to 19 investigations so far this year, including one case in which a university recovered $500,000 from a professor who used state resources for private commercial purposes.
A state appellate court has ordered a hearing on two petitions to reverse the Deukmejian administration’s controversial dismantling of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA).
Attorney General John Van de Kamp is examining a proposal to create a state special prosecutor’s office to investigate and prosecute public corruption cases while district attorneys are keeping a cautious eye on the plan.
“We have not reached any conclusions,” Van de Kamp said in a recent interview. “We’re still rolling it around.”
The Judges’ Man (PDF)
In the din of business as usual at the state Capitol, it is sometimes difficult to be heard – even when the voices belong to California’s 1,408 active state judges. In the halls of the Legislature, judges are just one more special-interest group.
But judges aren’t really like many others who wave their wish lists at lawmakers while promising campaign contributions.
Democratic legislative leaders Tuesday called a Third District Court of Appeal decision reinstating California’s embattled Cal-OSHA worker safety program “an over-whelming defeat” for Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.
In a last-minute precautionary maneuver, tort reform negotiators sidestepped an apparent state Elections Code violation by persuading legislators to amend a prohibition on trading for the withdrawal of a ballot initiative proposal.
The backers of last year’s successful “deep pockets” initiative, Proposition 51, have begun a second tort reform initiative drive – limiting attorney contingency fees and punitive damages – for the June 1988 ballot.
In an eleventh-hour legislative maneuver, a nine-bill tort reform package to limit local government liability has been amended in the state Senate into one bill designed to avert a governor’s veto.
Significant legislative agreement on tort reform emerged as the major accomplishment of the 1987 legislative session, which ended early Saturday, and now goes to Gov. George Deukmejian.
The state’s trial lawyers and their traditional antagonists on tort issues – business, medical and insurance interests – congratulated each other for their historic cooperation.
Government officials on both sides of the annual state budget battles agreed Wednesday that this week’s complex state Supreme Court opinion outlawing so-called budget “trailer bills” is no great loss.
Among many unresolved fiscal issues confronting legislators when they return to the Capitol for that state of the 1989 legislative session is the annually vexing matter of the “unfunded liability” of California’s judicial retirement system.
The U.S. Department of Labor notified state Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) officials Tuesday that the federal government would assume “concurrent responsibility” for California’s embattled worker safety program become of uncertainty about its future.
The U.S. Department of Labor was scheduled today to assume “concurrent jurisdiction” over worker safety standards in California as the future of the embattled California Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) remained uncertain.
Greater sensitivity by the criminal justice system to the financial and emotional needs of crime victims was the theme Wednesday of testimony before the Victim’ Rights Task Force of the California Council on Criminal Justice.
A proposed “joint operating arrangement” between the failing News and the hardy Bulletin in this San Joaquin County community has generated one of the most heated debates over free enterprise in the newspaper business since the operational merger of San Francisco’s major dailies more than two decades ago.
Legislation to permit limited electronic surveillance in major narcotics investigations is stalled in the state Legislature, which has killed at least a dozen such bills in the past two decades.
Controversial legislation to reimburse attorneys forced to represent indigent prisoners in civil actions is being re-drafted to included a so-called $5,000 pro bono deductible.
Gov. George Deukmejian has signed legislation designed to “educate” youthful drunk driving offenders about the consequences of their action by having them view the human cost of driving under the influence – in emergency rooms and county morgues.