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Judges and Judiciary

Jun. 20, 2024

‘Almost every county is faster’: Caseloads in LA nearly double in a decade

Data from Los Angeles County Superior Court backs comments from judges and attorneys regarding growing caseloads.

A judge at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles asked the parties at a recent hearing to get him up to speed on the case because he had over 800 cases on his book and he needed to do his "homework."

Judge Tony L. Richardson's comments echo sentiments by judge H. Jay Ford III at the Santa Monica Courthouse last July, when he asked plaintiffs and defendants to consolidate their replies and oppositions because he had about 760 cases before him.

Richardson and Ford's caseload is far from unique. Ten years ago, bench officers in Los Angeles were juggling slightly less than 450 unlimited civil cases on average. But filings have steadily increased over the past decade, putting pressure on the whole system.

According to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, filings have jumped more than 48% from fiscal year 2008-2009, from 55,988 filings to 83,043 so far in fiscal year 2023-2024. In parallel, the average caseload for unlimited civil matters nearly doubled over the last decade, from an average of 443 cases per courtroom in December 2014 to 847 in December 2023.

The problem is exacerbated by a chronic shortage of judges across the state. That shortage is particularly acute in Los Angeles County Superior Court, which had 27 vacancies as of June 1, according to the Judicial Council of California. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed two judges to the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday.

California Code of Civil Procedure states that an action must be brought to trial within five years after it is filed.

The impact of the increased caseload on the length of litigation is not entirely clear. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Superior Court said the court does not have that information because it does not actively track it in the regular course of its business.

Plaintiffs' attorneys with decades of experience in Los Angeles said it takes too long to take a case to trial, and that they were skeptical that the information was not tracked.

"Whenever the government doesn't track data, it's because they know the answer," said R. Rex Parris of Parris Law Firm in Lancaster. His wins include a $1.8 billion settlement against SoCalGas and Sempra Energy on behalf of San Fernando Valley residents over damages from the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas blowout. Southern California Gas Leak Cases, JCCP 4861, (L.A. Super. Ct., filed June 3, 2019).

"There is an unreasonably long wait for a motion," Parris continued.

"It takes six months to get a court date for a motion to compel, and many of the judges are so overworked, they don't want to hear it," Parris said.

Parris, who began practicing law in 1980, said increasing caseloads impacted procedural matters.

"In the first five to seven years, it was five years to get to a resolution. Then they cut it down two-and-a-half to three years. Now it's just through the roof," Parris continued. "Frequently, we're denied just basic discovery because of the delay factor. We get responses. But there is always a second set you want, and you have to wait another six months."

Taking a case to trial usually costs about $1 million, so Parris said his firm is taking fewer small cases.

Brian Panish of Panish Shea Ravipudi LLP also began practicing law in the early 1980s, and his experience paralleled Parris'.

"We file in all counties throughout the state of California. Almost every county is faster," Panish said. "LA County [Superior Court] is a difficult place," he said. "You do the preparation, line up the witnesses and there's a continuance."

Panish was appointed and served as lead trial counsel throughout the Southern California Gas Leak Litigation.


Antoine Abou-Diwan

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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