Navigating the intricacies of the discovery process in California can be a complex endeavor, both for employers and employees. With Governor Newsom's recent signing of SB 235, significant changes are attempting to streamline the discovery procedures in the state. This bill revises a section of the California Code of Civil Procedure (2016.090), bringing it more in line with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Previously, California's discovery procedure allowed the court, with the parties' agreement in most civil actions, to order initial disclosures within 45 days of the court's order. These disclosures encompassed information about individuals with relevant knowledge, documents supporting claims and defenses, and details about agreements that might lead to liability. Parties were obligated to verify these disclosures under penalty of perjury.
The introduction of SB 235 ushers in a series of adjustments to these established requirements. Instead of the previous 45-day period, parties in civil actions now have 60 days to provide initial disclosures. These disclosures must encompass not only what the prior law demanded but also information about individuals or records relevant to the subject matter of the case, as well as details about insurance policies that could potentially cover a judgment.
In essence, SB 235 now necessitates parties to disclose witnesses and documents tied to the case's relevance, even if such disclosures may be damaging to a party's position. Verification of initial disclosures under SB 235 will be conducted through written declarations or signatures by the party, their authorized representative, or their legal counsel.
Notably, SB 235's provisions exclude cases falling under the Family Code, Probate Code, actions in which a party has been granted preference, legal proceedings involving individuals without legal representation, matters filed in the small claims division of a court, and unlawful detainer cases.
Furthermore, SB 235 brings a substantial increase in the mandatory discovery abuse sanction, elevating it from $250 to $1,000. This sanction comes into play when a party fails to respond in good faith to a document request, produces requested documents with undue delay, or doesn't engage in a reasonable and good faith attempt to resolve disputes related to the request.
It's important to note that these changes take effect in civil actions filed on or after January 1, 2024, and will remain in effect until January 1, 2027. After this date, the legislature will re-evaluate the effectiveness of SB 235.
SB 235 is aimed at simplifying the disclosure process, making it broader and more efficient for all parties involved. Employers and employees should be mindful of the new timelines, expanded disclosure rules, and heightened penalties to ensure compliance with the law, safeguard their interests, and maintain a just legal process.