Jury trial bill clears first hurdle

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill that big business says is good for Louisiana clears its first hurdle.

It's House Bill 917 by Representative Garofalo. It seeks to make the jury threshold zero dollars instead of the current $50,000. It was 1993 when lawmakers put the threshold in place. It basically has both sides of a lawsuit agree to how much a lawsuit is worth in terms of money. If the parties do not agree then a judge decides how much he or she thinks it's worth. Raymond Garofalo wants to change that.

"I'm sorry for all the time that this is taking. I know it's a contentious issue. But with all due respect we're hearing from a lot of attorneys testifying today," says Garofalo.

The legal community was indeed well represented. Jury trials are something many lawyers want no part of...for one reason or another. Judges are also reluctant to give up threshold.

"I'm a trial judge and I just cannot understand how anybody can disconnect that if this bill passes that we are not going to spend a more inordinate amount of time trying to handle the case load that we presently have," testified District Court Judge Bob Morrison.

But according to the proponents the stats don't lie.

"We got a lot of judges ready to judge. Let's give them some work to do. I think they would appreciate it. So we mentioned the Alabama comparison to me the big take away is if you compare the amount of jury trials they had in Alabama in 2012 and you compare it to the Louisiana trials we had in 2012. Alabama had 92 less judges and handled almost 600 more combined jury trials," Argued Steven Waguespack of LABI.

"Every argument that we've heard in opposition to this change assumes there is going to be a large increase in the number of jury trials. The evidence does not show that. If you look at the other jurisdictions that have zero jury trial thresholds and those thresholds are much lower than Louisiana they don't have a lot more trials than we do," says Galofalo.

The bill cleared the Civil Law Committee by a vote of 7-6. It now heads to the House floor for debate.

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