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Recent Changes to Jury Fee Rules

by Jean-Simon Serrano

In California, if you demand a jury trial, you are required to pay a deposit for exercising that right. In recent years, prior to June 5, 2012, the Code of Civil Procedure § 631(b) read:

“Each party demanding a jury trial shall deposit advance jury fees with the clerk or judge. The total amount of the advance jury fees may not exceed on hundred fifty ($150) for each party. The deposit shall be made at least 25 calendar days before the date initially set for trial…” [emphasis added].

Earlier this year, Code of Civil Procedure § 631(b) was amended to read:

“(b) Each party demanding a jury trial shall deposit advance jury fees with the clerk or judge. The total amount of the advance jury fees shall be one hundred fifty dollars ($150) for each party.

(c) The advance jury fee deposit shall be made on or before the date scheduled for the initial case management conference in the action. If no case management conference is scheduled in a civil action, the advance jury deposit shall be made no later than 365 calendar days after the filing of the initial complaint. If the party has not appeared before the initial case management conference or has appeared more than 365 calendar days after the filing of the initial complaint, the deposit shall be made as provided in subdivision (d).” [emphasis added].

There are three things to note: (1) the “fee” is non-refundable; (2) each party is responsible for depositing this fee; and (3) the fee is required to be paid on or before the first Case Management Conference or within one year of the filing of the action.

Under the June 5, 2012 Amendment, every plaintiff is required to pay $150.00, in addition to the $450.00 filing fee (Riverside County), simply for bringing a civil action – this could amount to many hundreds of dollars in non-refundable fees being paid in a case where multiple plaintiffs are injured.

Additionally, because the vast, vast majority of personal injury cases in California settle before trial (indeed many statutes are engineered to promote the goal of settlement), this non-refundable fee gets paid to the court, never to be used to pay for the plaintiff’s non-existent jury and never to be returned to him/her. Previously, the jury fees were only to be paid 25 calendar days before the initial trial date and, in many cases, an action would settle before such fees were deposited. Now, the fee must be paid very early in litigation, often before any meaningful attempts to settle can be made.

As a result of much discontent regarding the June amendment to Section 631(b), Assembly Bill 1481 was introduced, passed, and signed into law on September 17th 2012, to take effect immediately. Code of Civil Procedure § 631(b) now reads:

At least one party demanding a jury on each side of a civil case shall pay a nonrefundable fee of one hundred fifty dollars ($150), unless the fee has been paid by another party on the same side of the case. The fee shall offset the costs to the state of providing juries in civil cases. If there are more than two parties to the case, for purposes of this section only, all plaintiffs shall be considered one side of the case, and all other parties shall be considered the other side of the case.” [emphasis added].

The language of the Section now requires only one party per side to pay the jury deposit fee. Unfortunately, the requirement that these fees be deposited on or before the date of the first Case Management Conference remains (a few narrow exceptions are listed in Section 631(c)).

It seems clear that the recent changes to these rules were designed to provide the Courts with more funding. It is also clear that, given the early requirement for depositing such non-refundable fees, this is another non-recoverable cost that must be incurred by a plaintiff in bringing an action for damages. What are less clear are the implications these rules have on one’s Constitutional Right to a jury trial and whether we will see further outrage like that which resulted in AB 1481.

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