The process of coordinating virtually all asbestos cases pending in Southern California before a single judge sitting in Los Angeles is quickly proceeding. San Francisco Superior Court Judge John E. Munter has now held a public hearing on the petition to coordinate—filed by the presiding judges of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties—and recommended to the California Judicial Council that coordination be ordered.
For background, in May 2011 the presiding judges of these three counties filed a petition for coordination with the Judicial Council. The goal was to have all asbestos cases pending in these counties transferred to a single “coordination trial judge” in Los Angeles who will handle all pretrial matters in each case, before assigning each case out to a different judge for trial. Judge Munter in San Francisco was designated to hold a hearing on the petition and make a recommendation back to the Judicial Council.
This petition was opposed by a number of asbestos plaintiff’s firms. Additionally, several members of the asbestos defense bar filed briefs raising concerns about potential procedural pitfalls associated with coordination, such as the ability of litigants to disqualify the coordination trial judge. Judge Munter held a hearing on the petition on August 15, 2011, and entered his order recommending coordination the next day.
Per Judge Munter’s order, all asbestos cases with trial dates set within four months of August 15, 2011, will be excluded from coordination. Therefore, these cases will remain as currently assigned in Los Angeles, Orange, or San Diego counties. As for the identity of the coordination trial judge, it was recommended that the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court be authorized to select this individual.
We strongly anticipate that the Judicial Council will follow Judge Munter’s recommendation and order coordination. While there is no deadline by which this order must be made, we anticipate that the Judicial Council will act relatively quickly. The next step will be learning the identity of the coordination trial judge after the coordination order is entered.