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Sacramento, Calif.-The plaintiffs’ bar scored a major victory in the California Legislature last week, 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,” said state Assembly Judiciary Chairman Dave Jones. “But I’m an eternal optimist.” No deal 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 California 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 that bench trials provide a faster and cheaper alternative to an unpredictable jury resolution. In a unanimous opinion, the court found that 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 predispute 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. Two bills, no support But neither Republican-backed waiver bill found support last week 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 last week’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.

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