Sure, all legal eyes in California were on SB 1407 last week, as the Legislature finally approved the $5 billion courthouse construction bill. But in the waning days of the legislative session, lawmakers also approved a number of other bills of interest to lawyers and judges in the state. And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might actually sign a few of them into law. Here’s a run down of bills headed to the governor’s desk:
AB 2379 by Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa would speed up cases that challenge orders sealing court records. The bill addresses media complaints that a lengthy appeals process can delay the release of important records for years, to the point where they’re no longer newsworthy.
AB 1725 by Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, would require the State Bar‘s JNE Commission to publicly reveal whether a judicial appointee received a “qualified” or “not qualified” rating. Under the bill, any appointee rated “exceptionally well qualified,” “well qualified” or “qualified” by JNE would be reported as a “qualified” judge. Currently, JNE has the option of disclosing names and ratings, but only of those candidates deemed unqualified.
AB 437, the Lilly Ledbetter bill, “rejects” the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (.pdf), which held that plaintiffs must file a complaint alleging pay discrimination within 180 days of the initial illegal act, and not within six months of learning about it or from the time the last illegal payment was made. The bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, clarifies that in California the time period for alleging pay discrimination runs from the date of every illegal payment.
AB 3050, another bill by Jones, would charge attorneys who appear in court by telephone $15 to fund a pilot program that would provide interpreters to non-English speaking litigants in certain civil cases. The bill would also bar organizations from billing themselves as “legal aid” agencies unless they actually provide no- or low-cost legal services.
SB 1113 by Sen. Carole Migden, D- San Francisco, is another slap at a court decision, this time the state Supreme Court’s decision in Olson v. Automobile Club of Southern California, which said that prevailing parties in cases that enforce “an important right affecting the public interest” are not entitled to recover expert witness fees. SB 1113 says a court can indeed award witness fees and attorneys fees in such cases.
AB 2947 by Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-El Monte, would prohibit nursing homes from requiring the elderly to “involuntarily” waive their right to pursue a civil action as a condition of admission.
SB 1177 by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, would allow courts to charge an extra $5 on filing fees — up to $13 from the current $8 — to fund dispute resolution programs.
SB 1718 by Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, would force the state to do a broad survey of salaries earned by lawyers employed by counties and cities to determine if state attorneys are indeed underpaid. State lawyers originally wanted this bill to link their pay to that of other public agencies’ lawyers, which they contend is significantly higher. But they later agreed that this was probably the best they could hope for in a tough budget year.
— Cheryl Miller