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SACRAMENTO � The California plaintiff bar scored a major victory in the Legislature Tuesday when Democrats killed two bills that would have restored pre-dispute jury- trial waivers. But a key lawmaker kept the issue alive with a new piece of legislation that encourages trial lawyers and tort reformers to find a compromise. “I’d say they’re diametrically opposed on this,” Assembly Judiciary Chairman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, said Tuesday. “But I’m an eternal optimist.” Jones’ allies, though, don’t seem eager to cut a deal. “We’re not in negotiating mode,” said Sharon Arkin, past president of the Consumer Attorneys of California. Last year, the state Supreme Court struck down agreements in which both parties give up their rights to a jury trial before any dispute occurs. The decision in Grafton Partners v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 944, ended a practice popular with many business leaders who believe bench trials provide a faster and cheaper alternative to an unpredictable jury resolution. In a unanimous opinion, the court found such waivers violate current law supporting the right to a jury trial. But business interests seized upon Justice Ming Chin’s separate, concurring opinion that called on the Legislature to join 48 other states and expressly authorize the pre-dispute waivers. “I think California ought to basically get in line with what all the other states are doing,” said Assemblyman Tom Harman, R- Huntington Beach. But neither Republican-backed waiver bill found support Tuesday from majority Democrats, who said such agreements potentially hurt renters and other consumers too desperate to sign a lease or buy a product to question the terms of a deal. “Certainly if the playing field was entirely level, we might not be as concerned with parties waiving jury-trial rights,” Jones said. As an alternative, Jones has introduced what’s known as a spot bill, so dubbed because it holds a place in the legislative process while the author develops language. After Tuesday’s hearing he declined to say what compromise he might offer the two factions. “I think we’re prepared to listen to all views,” he said. Jones’ efforts appear at odds with his support from the Consumer Attorneys, who last fall named him their legislator of the year. The assemblyman would only say that he wants to do what’s best “for all Californians.” One possible source of compromise between trial lawyers and tort reformers might be a pending initiative to curb punitive damages. The measure, sponsored by Chevron Corp. and the Civil Justice Association of California, would immunize companies from punitive damages if they comply with all applicable state and federal regulations. Arkin said her organization hadn’t been approached with a deal involving the initiative, and she had no comment on the merits of such a deal. “We’re not interested in negotiating on the Grafton issue,” Arkin said. “What I’d love to see [Jones] do with that bill is bar mandatory arbitration.” But companies will likely require even more mandatory arbitration pacts if jury-trial waivers remain outlawed, said John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association of California. And, Sullivan added, don’t look to the business community to offer up a compromise on jury waivers. “The people who don’t want to follow Justice Chin’s recommendation should come up with what they’d like to see,” he said.

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