Does the California Supreme Court Have a Side Hustle?

For anyone who thinks their local court didn’t deliver the justice they deserved, there’s always the California Supreme Court to turn to. But before doing that, check to see if this hallowed institution is as hallowed as its title suggests. After all, someone’s got to pay for all that marble at the Supreme Court.

How It Works

The California Supreme Court receives 7000+ appeal petitions a year, out of which 150-ish get selected. But just to file a petition, there’s a $775 fee. This drops a cool $5 mill into the court coffers. That’s quite a bankroll, but it is the High Court after all and, like all good judges, I’ll reserve judgment until I know what you get for your money.

According to the website, seven justices read each petition, discuss its merits and then vote on whether to select it for a full review. As petitions can be no longer than 50 pages, reading times can be calculated. Bah blah words per page; blah blah reading speeds; blah blah type of material. All that blahing worked out that a single page with 200 words would take on average 1.5 minutes to read.

But supreme court justices are supposed to be smarter than the rest of us, so let’s speed things up and say a 50 page petition will take 40 minutes. Discussions follow and differences of opinion would certainly drag things out but, again, let’s be generous and say the seven agree on every petition. This would mean each one takes an hour to get through the system.

The Schedule

Judges have six weeks annual leave, which excludes Christmas, Veteran’s Day etc. Therefore seven weeks need to be deducted from 52, which leaves 45 weeks of work.
If there are 150 petitions selected for a full review, that’s more or less three a week. On this occasion, your lawyer gets to speak and the judges obviously have to know every aspect of the case.

We’ve all watched enough TV to know that lawyers don’t have files; they have boxes, so it’s hard to think that a review could be done in two days. However, we’re still giving the legal eagles the benefit of the doubt, so let’s say three reviews, however unlikely, take three days. This means appeal petitions have two days a week of court time.

According to the website, there are public sessions on Thursday mornings for announcements etc, so that cuts it down to a day and a half. Assuming the judges work an eight hour day, that’s 12 hours a week. If there are 7000 applications and 45 working weeks, we’re talking about a weekly workload of 155 petitions. Dividing 155 by 12 hours means every petition gets 13 minutes of the judges’ time.

There might be a couple of speed readers amongst the seven, but 13 minutes is never going to get anywhere near 60. But it gets worse.

Because the Supreme Court has such specific requirements for applications, appeal petitioners have to submit a completely new document. If they’re using a lawyer, the cost is $20K. Somehow, $20,775 for 13 minutes doesn’t seem like a good investment.

Case Study of Edwina

Edwina (not her real name) makes an interesting case study. The owners of a North Hollywood property accepted Edwina’s offer of $650K. As with a lot of property purchases, the realtor was representing the buyer and the seller. With contracts signed and two weeks before Edwina got the keys, she received an offer of $33K to drop out of the deal. Edwina declined.

Within days, she was told the other buyer, an LLC, had bought her house. Knowing the law was on her side, she sued. For whatever reason, which Edwina suspects was collusion, she lost her case. She appealed and lost again. She was later to discover the new sale price was $850K.

california supreme court
California Supreme Court building.

Enter the California Association of Realtors

CAR is staffed by lawyers and is the trade association representing the 185,000 realtors licensed by the State of California. Apparently, they had been watching Edwina’s case from afar and, when she lost, sent an eight page letter to the court. This letter basically stated that Edwina’s contract is the same as that used by hundreds of thousands of Californians every year. So if the court decided this contract didn’t protect Edwina, it won’t protect anyone else either. For this reason, CAR requested the court’s findings be urgently published.

The court said no.

Although CAR’s intervention proved futile, it made Edwina even more convinced of her rights and she submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court of California. Her case didn’t get selected for a full review.

So the highest court in the state thinks the 400,000 people who buy property every year aren’t entitled to a legally binding contract? Or is it that their speed reading needs a little work? Or did they read it at all?

These David-and-Goliath-Gone-Wrong stories only come to light when the Davids can pay legal fees. If CAR had government funding, they could be a legal watchdog and represent all people who have been wronged. And if that was the case, property sellers might behave better.

This applies to all businesses. If the offenders know it will cost the victim nothing and a government purse is in the equation, the public would have leverage.

Where Are the Organizations for the Little People?

Apparently, they’re all holed up in Europe, where socialism is running rife. Over there, if a company fails to fulfill a legal obligation, citizens can go straight to a government-funded body. In the US, oversight is left mainly to the Better Business Bureau, that has a habit of handing ‘complainees‘ straight back to the offender.

Clearly, the difference between the US and Europe is as big as the Atlantic itself. And while Americans consider California to be a liberal state, by European standards, it’s closer to third world. So with change and even betterment such a long way off, the Supreme Court of California will continue to collect their $5 million for many years to come.