Tag Archives: California

Supreme Court Strikes Down Calif. Video Game Law

Reprinted from my blog, Cyber-Esq.  The full Supreme Court opinion is in the Box under “Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Video Game Case:”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 7-2 opinion, that a 2005 California law aimed at banning the sale of violent video games to children went too far.  Created by California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), the law imposed a fine of up to $1,000 on retailers found to be in violation.  However, because of the litigation, the law never went into effect.

This is the highest-level decision to date on the subject of legal restrictions on violent video games.  In the wake of the Court’s decision, one thing is now clear – video games are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as books, plays and movies.  Moreover, the Court emphasized that First Amendment protections are subject only to historically limited categories of speech such as obscenity, incitement or fighting words.  These protections do not wane with the advent of new technologies.  As a result, the state – as California did – cannot create a wholly new category of speech that is unlawful unless it can meet the “strict scrutiny” test; i.e., justify its law with a “compelling state interest.”

On the question of “strict scrutiny,” the Court found that California failed to meet its burden.  Of specific interest, the Court doubted the strength of psychological evidence that claims such games cause children to behave violently or aggressively, at least more than any other available media.  In addition, the Court found that the voluntary rating system – known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board‘s (ESRB) classification system – already achieved the needs of parents without the government enacting legislation that infringes on free speech.

According to an article in ZDNet:

“the majority of video game resellers in the United States – including major retailers like GameStop and Best Buy – support the use of the…(ESRB) classification system, which rates games based on content and applies an age rating, which is featured on the video game box. It’s a purely voluntary system modeled after the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings for movies.”

What do you think of the Court’s decision?  In particular, the Court mentioned the fact that California had not limited access to “Saturday morning cartoons” in support of its decision, indicating that this raised the possibility that the state was singling out a particular industry or speaker for sanction.  Is this a defensible analogy to violent video games?

 

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California Governor Signs “Expedited Jury Trials Act”

As many already know, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a common feature in today’s civil litigation.  The goal of ADR is to assist litigants in resolving their disputes without the need for a full-blown jury trial on the merits of an action.  ADR can take many forms, including arbitration, mediation and early neutral evaluation.

One form of ADR that never seemed to gain traction in most jurisdictions, however, is the “summary jury trial.”  (See, Thomas B. Metzloff, Reconfiguring the Summary Jury Trial, 41 DUKE L.J. 806, 806. (1992).)  Typically, a “summary jury trial” involves a smaller number of jurors impaneled to hear cases with a lower dollar value, and the proceedings are usually limited to a short period of time (e.g., less than one day’s trial time).  Ordinarily, both sides must agree in order to submit a case to such a procedure.

One jurisdiction where “summary jury trials” have been used in some civil matters is South Carolina.  You will find a law review article entitled Summary Jury Trial in Charleston County, South Carolina in the Box, which discusses the use of this ADR procedure in South Carolina.

Now, the “summary jury trial” is expected to become a more oft-used feature of California’s ADR processes.  On September 30, 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 2284 known as the Expedited Jury Trials Act.  The Act will take effect on January 1, 2011 and self-expire on January 1, 2016 unless a later-enacted statute deletes or extends the date.  The Act is modeled on South Carolina’s “summary jury trials.”

How Will Summary Jury Trials Work In California?

Under the Act, the parties to a civil dispute must agree to submit their case to this procedure; they cannot be compelled to submit their case to the procedure.  Their case will be heard by a jury of eight jurors (or fewer in some circumstances) with no alternates, and six of these jurors must agree on a verdict.  Counsel will be limited to three peremptory challenges.  Each side will have no more than about three hours in which to present their cases.  They must waive their right to appeal an adverse decision or to make certain other post-trial motions.  Finally, expedited jury trials will typically involve “high/low agreements”, a written agreement entered into by the parties specifying a minimum amount of damages a plaintiff is guaranteed to receive from the defendant and a maximum amount of damages that the defendant will be liable for regardless of the ultimate verdict returned by the jury.

Goal Of Summary Civil Trials

Like many states, California has a severe backlog of cases percolating through the judicial system.  Many of these are low-value cases.  The proponents of the Act contend that the procedure has the potential to drastically reduce the cost of such litigation as well as relieve the court’s docket.

What do you think?  Do you think ADR is a good idea in general?  What about “summary” or “expedited” jury trial in particular?

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California County, Others To Pay More Than $650,000 In Same-Sex Elder Abuse Case

Late last week, representatives of Sonoma County, California agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years.  According to the suit, Greene and Scull had each executed mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees in the Public Guardian’s office separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another.

In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.

In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate filed a lawsuit against County officials and others alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.  The plaintiffs were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Under the terms of the settlement, Sonoma County will pay $600,000 to the plaintiffs, with a smaller payment of $53,000 coming from the remaining defendants.  In addition, as a result of the lawsuit, Sonoma County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.

NCLR is to be commended for taking on this most egregious case and seeing it through to a favorable conclusion for the plaintiffs.  As a resident of Sonoma County, on a personal and professional level, I am deeply disturbed that it took a lawsuit to cajole the County into “modifying” policies requiring its employees to “follow protocols before seizing private property” of its residents, “relocating elders against their will,” and “prohibiting County employees from backdating information.”  It should not be necessary for anyone – regardless of sexual orientation – to resort to court action to prevent such abuses.  The monetary settlement notwithstanding, what this couple lost cannot be replaced by any court.

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IRS Issues Ruling – California Community Property Recognized For Registered Domestic Partners


As reported in the Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) Blog, the IRS has just issued an important private letter ruling affecting California registered domestic partners. According to the ruling, California’s registered domestic partners must report half of their community earnings on their federal individual tax returns.

Under the ruling, if two partners have combined income of, say, $100,000 (partner A’s income = $75,000 and partner B’s income = $25,000), each would report $50,000 on his individual federal return. Each partner is entitled to one-half of the tax credits withheld from the partnership’s paychecks.

This ruling is particularly significant for registered partners where one is a high earner and the other is a low earner. Under the ruling, the couple could take advantage of splitting the income, thereby relieving the tax burden on the higher earner. Registered domestic partners in California will be permitted to amend their returns for the period December 31, 2006 to June 1, 2010.

This advantage is just one of the many tax advantages that have always been available to married couples, but before the ruling, it was not available to domestic partners under federal law.

You can also read more about the ruling at the CEB Blog here as well as a San Francisco Chronicle article about the development here.

I have also downloaded the private letter ruling to the Box, entitled IRS Ruling Letter, as well as IRS Legal Memorandum.

Judge orders UC to repay $38 million in student fees – Inside Bay Area

Judge orders UC to repay $38 million in student fees – Inside Bay Area.

Very interesting article about the outcome of lawsuit against UC for fee hikes in certain programs.  My opinion is that the Judge is right on the mark here.  What do you think?

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