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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 U.S. Supreme Court rulings in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (2011) and American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant (2013) 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.

In many instances, individuals face multiple simultaneous legal problems.  A person who is a victim of unlawful termination or wage theft might soon face eviction or deal with abusive debt collectors.  California Democrats believe that reforms to civil justice must recognize the overlap in the law and develop an all-encompassing approach to civil justice which supports individual litigants, whose involvement in one area of the law often spills over into others, and empower such litigants to obtain justice regardless of a lack of economic resources.

Justice delayed is justice denied.’ Unfortunately, this is the reality that California’s civil justice system will continue to face without budget reforms and state budget reprioritization.  Budget cuts to California’s Judicial Branch mean extended waits for civil lawsuits and legal issues that touch everyday lives – divorces, child custody hearings, conservatorships, probate, and small claims – in extreme examples from several months to several years.

California Democrats will fight for culturally competent, multi-lingual, and trauma informed courts and 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, in order to promote greater access to the courts for people of color, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.

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 mean that often only the wealthy are able to access the civil justice system and families already in crisis 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.

California Democrats recognize that fair and equal access to justice is an equity issue and that deficiencies in the civil justice system perpetuate power imbalances between those who can afford attorneys and those who cannot.  Existing systemic barriers prevent low- and middle- income people in underserved communities from accessing the courts or prevailing in their cases.  This perpetuates a system of injustice that disproportionately affects people of color and communities that may not be receiving basic needs resources

To support and prioritize fair and equal access to the civil justice system for all Californians, California Democrats will:

  • Support reforms to the attorney admissions process to reduce racial discrimination and inherent bias in the legal profession and to provide access to justice for all Californians;
  • Work to expand the availability of free or affordable civil legal services to all Californians who are unable to afford civil legal services;
  • Support law school tuition assistance and/or debt forgiveness for attorneys who agree to work in underserved areas or who dedicate thirty percent or more of their practice to providing free or affordable legal services; and,
  • Support the appointment, endorsement, and retention of diverse Democratic judicial officers who are culturally competent and representative of the communities where they live.