As attorneys who actually go to trial, we frequently face situations where our clients have to decide whether or not to proceed by way of jury trial as opposed to bench trial. Before all of the Los Angeles County Superior court budget cuts, I used to think bench trials were cheaper because you did not have to do as many of the formalities that come with a jury trial. Now, however, with the increased demand on each judge’s time, a bench trial can take such a long time to finish that a the bench trial may actually cost more.
With a jury trial judges have the difficult task of trying to make sure that the jurors valuable time is not wasted through unnecessary delays in the trial and unnecessary time spent on extraneous matters. As a result, jury trials (although they involve more work for the lawyers) tend to move very quickly. In contrast, a bench trial, by its very nature, can start and stop and proceed intermittently because the judge no longer has to worry about the jury and instead can try to fit the bench trial into the judge’s and the attorneys’ available time. Judges only have so much time and a bench trial simply must be juggled by the judge along with the rest of the judge’s schedule, while a jury trial seems to still take precedence over everything else.
This somewhat subtle change in timing is interesting and will only become more interesting as California’s budget issues remain unresolved. Let’s increase the court fees and get more judges – that would free up more court time.
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