O.C. Justice:  Access and Accountability

The challenges of 2014 are already apparent with the release of Governor Brown’s proposed budget, which returns only $105 million to California’s judiciary. While these figures will serve as a starting point for many months of negotiations in Sacramento, they reflect the stark reality that trial courts in California will almost certainly remain dramatically underfunded in the coming year. With experts estimating that $250 million would need to be returned to California’s trial courts in order to keep them running at their current (and wholly insufficient) levels.  Changes detrimental to civil litigants in Orange County are likely even if $250 million in court funding is recovered.

Despite this glaring reality and the uphill battle civil litigants face thorough the State, this year’s theme for the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association is O.C. Justice:  Access and Accountability.  This theme reflects a growing sense of pride among the Orange County Plaintiffs’ bar; a reassurance to broadcast throughout the State of California that even in a traditionally conservative jurisdiction like the O.C. a dedicated group of pro-consumer professionals will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that Justice may be had.

This year the quest for access refers not only to physical access to the courts – access that continues to be threatened by inadequate court funding – but also to a victim’s ability to bring an action to seek redress for harm in the first instant. Each year hundreds of pieces of legislation and requests for support are brought before governing bodies, ranging from local city councils and boards of supervisors all the way to the United States Senate, with the specific intent of limiting a victim’s right to seek compensation for harm suffered.  In fulfilling the third prong of OCTLA’s mission (“Promotion and support of laws which correct injustice and protect access to the civil justice system”), OCTLA’s leadership and members will continue their efforts, locally and statewide, to return adequate court funding and speak out against any efforts to limit consumers’ rights.

Accountability this year speaks to several different issues.  First, accountability reinforces the principle that access to justice necessarily requires that plaintiffs have the legal ability to seek redress from wrongdoers.  Access and accountability truly work hand in hand.

Second, accountability requires that a victim’s access to justice not be prolonged unnecessarily.  At any hint of a defendant or defense counsel seeking to capitalize on congested courts, efforts must be undertaken to hold them accountable, including, requests for sanctions. Zealous advocacy for our clients dictates that we not allow opposing counsel or opposing parties to prolong litigation by refusing to provide full and complete, Code-Compliant discovery responses.  Such strategies act by essentially putting a stay on the litigation until a motion to compel can be heard usually many months, and sometimes even up to a year, later.  This strategy is commonly met with supplemental responses served contemporaneously with an opposition to the motion suggesting the motion is now moot in light of the supplemental responses.  Such a strategy is an abuse of the discovery process and is being utilized solely to delay justice.  We must work to hold parties who engage in such conduct accountable. Without consequences for such behavior, how can we expect it to change?

Third and finally, accountability requires that wrongdoers, no matter their profession or title, be held responsible for the full measure of a victim’s damages, and not protected by outdated and artificially set limits that shifts burdens and costs to taxpayers and away from wrongdoers. The Draconian MICRA limits amount to nothing short of corporate welfare, and after more than 38 years, we must go on the offensive and fight for what is right and fair for victims of medical malpractice. Period.  End of discussion.

O.C. Justice is not an oxymoron. OCTLA’s talented and committed Board of Directors is committed to the fight and will spend 2014 dedicating a majority of its time and effort working to ensuring that all consumers have access to courts and the ability to hold wrongdoers fully accountable – in Orange County and throughout the state. No easy task for a group operating behind the orange curtain. But if we aren’t proactively fighting for full justice for all consumers then are we really consumer advocates?