Recovering Trial Presentation Costs in California

VintageCameraWomanCalifornia: The home of movie studios, Silicon Valley and innovation.

Now, thanks to the California Court of Appeal, the law embraces the reality of recovering trial presentation costs with a published opinion.

California law recognizes the prevailing party in litigation is entitled to reasonable costs that were “reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation rather than merely convenient or beneficial to its preparation.” Overturning such an award would require an abuse of discretion. Bender v. County of Los Angeles, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 536, 44-48 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. July 9, 2013), citing Code of Civil Procedure sections 1032, 1033.5.

The prevailing Plaintiff was awarded by the Trial Court $24,103.75 for courtroom presentations, which included the following:

Trial Video Computer

PowerPoint Presentation and

Videotaped Deposition Synchronizing

Cost of Trial Presentation Professional for Nine Days

The Plaintiff’s closing argument included a detailed summary of trial testimony, exhibits, and a  “comprehensive evaluation of such evidence vis a vis jury instructions.”  Bender, at *45.

The Court explained the costs included creating deposition transcript and video excerpts, converting exhibits to TIFF and JPEG and the design of the electronic courtroom presentations. Bender, at *46.

ModernJury

The Defendants challenged the Plaintiff’s costs, claiming the costs were “specifically disallowed” by nearly 20 year old case law.  Id. 

The Trial Court awarded costs, because the services in question “enhanced counsel’s advocacy during the trial,” and the costs were “reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation.” Id. As the Court explained:

The court found both points to be so: the synchronizing of the videotaped depositions, for example, including the cost of employing a projectionist to recover and retrieve the excerpts selected by counsel, both enhanced counsel’s advocacy during trial and was reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation.

Bender, at *46.

Slides

The Court of Appeal upheld the Trial Court. Associate Justice Elizabeth Grimes said for the Court:

Almost 20 years have passed since Science Applications Internat. Corp. v. Superior Court (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 1095, 1103 [46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 332]  was decided, during which time the use of technology in the courtroom has become commonplace (including a technician to monitor the equipment and quickly resolve any glitches), and technology costs have dramatically declined. In a witness credibility case such as this, it would be inconceivable for plaintiff’s counsel to forego the use of technology to display the videotapes of plaintiff’s interviews after his beating, in the patrol car and at the sheriff’s station, and key parts of other witnesses’ depositions. The court in Science Applications was “troubled by review of a case in which a party incurred over $2 million in expenses to engage in high-tech litigation resulting in recovery of only $1 million in damages.” (Science Applications, supra, 39 Cal.App.4th at p. 1105.) This is not such a case. The costs at issue total just over $24,000, and the trial court specifically found the trial technology enhanced counsel’s advocacy and was reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation. The court acted well within its discretion in allowing recovery of these costs.

Bender, at *46-47.

Bow Tie Thoughts

I think Bender is an important opinion, because it recognizes the reality of the 21st Century. Human beings are visual learners. Trial presentation technology helps jurors (and judges) understand anything from complex issues to the credibility of a witness.

We live in a world where almost everyone has a smartphone that can shoot video. There is no shortage of these instant videos being Tweeted out across social media. Attorney are well-served in representing their clients by using such relevant evidence to present the case facts to a jury.

Trial presentation technology is not cost prohibitive. Getting a synchronized video deposition for an important witness is within the world of reasonable costs. Standard trial presentation software for a laptop is less than $800. There are even multiple trial presentation apps for the iPad, ranging in cost from $10 to $90. The barriers to entry for the use of such technology to “enhanced counsel’s advocacy during the trial,” are remarkably low.

Is such technology “reasonably necessary to the conduct of the litigation”? I say yes. Our jurors have no shortage of online videos and cable television dedicated to history and science. This says nothing of the crime dramas people watch for entertainment. Modern jurors expect to see facts orderly presented, with the factual dots connected to the jury instructions. Trial presentation technology is vital to meeting the expectations of jurors for effective trial advocacy.

7 thoughts on “Recovering Trial Presentation Costs in California

  1. FINALLY!!!. I have been asked for years of any rulings or decisions regarding the recovery of costs. Part of the problem in the past was the exuberant costs some consulting firms charged. As noted in the old Science Applications Internat. Corp case. In addition to the court’s ruling based on the comment “enhanced counsel’s advocacy during the trial” we have all known for years that using technology does cut down trial time thereby assisting judicial economy and the courts heavy load. I have been in agreement with the notion of including trial presentation costs for years.

  2. Pingback: Useful news updates re: law+tech | Paperless Chase

    • Josh, this is indeed a major decision, which will likely be cited in many cases to come. There is also a similar Nevada case referenced in my follow-up piece:

      Equal Justice for ALL: California Trial Presentation Costs FULLY RECOVERABLE
      http://trial-technology.blogspot.com/2013/12/equal-justice-for-all-california-trial.html

      With obvious value to all prevailing litigants, the decision in Bennett v. City of Los Angeles takes a significant step toward enabling and providing the benefits of technology to those who might otherwise go without.

      Ted Brooks
      Litigation-Tech LLC

      • Ted, I agree with you this case is very important for all future cost recoveries. It was my company CourtRoom Presentations that provided service for the plaintiffs, the videos used were instrumental to show the lies or each deputy and clearly the judge saw the importance of each clip we played around 200 impeachment clips.

  3. Pingback: Equal Justice for ALL: California Trial Presentation Costs FULLY RECOVERABLE | My Blog

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