FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 8, 2011
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SACRAMENTO – Governor Jerry Brown today signed legislation, Senate Bill 221, by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), to expand access to Small Claims Court, often called the “people’s court.” Senate Bill 221 increases the Small Claims Court jurisdictional limit from $7,500 to $10,000. It follows up on Simitian’s successful 2005 effort (SB 422) which raised the previous limit from $5,000 to $7,500. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan unanimous support.
“This new law seeks to close a gap in the justice system,” Simitian said. “For individuals with damages of less than $10,000 justice is difficult to come by, and the usual result is to settle at the jurisdictional limit (just $5,000 a few years ago, and now $7,500). Senate Bill 221 will help close that gap, and provide civil litigants access to a process that is fair, timely and affordable.”
Simitian noted that, “For middle class folks with a consumer complaint or a landlord/tenant dispute, justice can be costly and hard to come by. Small claims courts with realistic claims limits are often the public’s only opportunity for a fair shake.”
In 2002, the Judicial Council of California and the California Law Revision Commission recommended studying the effects of raising the small claims jurisdictional limit to $7,500 and then $10,000. In 2005 Senator Simitian’s SB 422 was signed into law; that measure increased the small claims court limit from $5,000 to $7,500. After reviewing the change, the Judicial Council concluded that small claims court “provides a more speedy and efficient forum for resolving relatively small disputes.”
Early concerns that an increase in the claims limit might generate an unmanageable rise in new cases proved unfounded following the 2005 increase, opening the door for Simitian’s current effort to increase access with a still higher limit. As Simitian explained, “Folks with larger claims were simply settling for the lower limit because they had no other option. My hope is that this new law will provide a fuller and fairer measure of justice.”
The new law retains key protections from Simitian’s earlier legislation, including enhanced training requirements for temporary judges and increased funding for small claims advisors. As Simitian noted, “SB 221 strikes the appropriate balance of providing increased access to justice while at the same time not overwhelming the courts.”
Daniel Pone, Senior Attorney for the Judicial Council of California said that, “The rising costs of litigation make it increasingly difficult to find attorneys willing to take cases valued at $10,000, or even higher.” As a result, Pone continued, “The current jurisdictional limit forces individuals with claims between $7,500 and $10,000 to represent themselves in a limited civil case, which is inefficient and burdensome for both litigants and the courts.”
Earlier this year HALT, a nonprofit legal reform group, ranked California’s small claims courts second in the nation. The report noted, however, that if California had increased its jurisdictional limit to $10,000, then its small claims system “would have ranked first in the nation.”
For more information on SB 221 visit http://www.senatorsimitian.com/legislation.