It's been quite a long time since the California legislature
turned its attention to civil discovery.
But man, they sure did this time.
Yesterday, the Governor signed AB1875,
limiting deposition length in many cases to seven hours. The guts of the bill, heavily lobbied for by the Plaintiff's bar, provides as follows:
Except as provided in subdivision (b), or by any court order, including a case management order, a deposition examination of the witness by all counsel, other than the witness’ counsel of record, shall be limited to seven hours of total testimony. The court shall allow additional time, beyond any limits imposed by this section, if needed to fairly examine the deponent or if the deponent, another person, or any other circumstance impedes or delays the examination.
This is somewhat different than Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 30(d)(1), which limits depositions to one day of seven hours and on its face includes questionning by the deponent's attorney. AB 1875 has a seven hour limit, but does not limit the examination to a single day. Furthermore, AB 1875 has specific exceptions.
The first exception recognizes agreements by the parties, which will be enforced. Other exceptions to the limit include expert witness depositions, depositions of corporate representatives (referred to in California as "persons most qualified"), plaintiffs (and all witnesses) in employment cases and "second served" depositions, taken by parties served in a case after one or more initial depositions were completed.
Also excepted are cases designated "complex" (most of which are asbestos cases) with one very large exception:
. . . unless a licensed physician attests in a declaration served on the parties that the deponent suffers from an illness or condition that raises substantial medical doubt of survival of the deponent beyond six months, in which case the deposition examination of the witness by all counsel, other than the witness’ counsel of record, shall be limited to two days of no more than seven hours of total testimony each day, or 14 hours of total testimony.
When the Consumer Attorneys of California – the organized Plaintiff tort bar – was lobbying for this bill, some of the examples of abusive, overly-long depositions they cited were from asbestos plaintiff depositions and from employment depositions. But the bill that ultimately passed both houses and was signed by the Governor allows unlimited depositions in employment cases and limits asbestos plaintiff depositions only when the plaintiff is dying.
The new law takes effect on January 13, 2013. CBL will be most interested to see the extent to which the parties reach stipulations in appropriate cases and also the extent to which Superior Court judges are willing to make case-by-case accommodations. As California Court resources have become scarcer and scarcer, getting timely relief through discovery motions has become increasingly difficult.