Waiver of the right to a jury trial cannot be imposed as a sanction. In a Los Angeles unlawful detainer action, the pro per tenant (who was also pro per on appeal) appeared on the trial date without complying with a Los Angeles County Superior Court Civil Division unlawful detainer standing order. The court found “defendant had waived jury by not preparing for a jury trial,” and following a court trial, judgment was entered against her and possession of the premises was awarded to plaintiff. Because the court exceeded its authority in denying defendant’s right to be tried by a jury, the judgment was reversed.
The tenant/defendant had requested the Court to continue the matter to prepare jury instructions, etc. But the Court found the defendant not credible legal reason why she was not prepared for trial.
Code of Civil Procedure section 631, subdivision (f), sets forth the exclusive grounds for a jury waiver, and failure to prepare for trial is not listed. Showing up for trial unprepared may subject a party to monetary sanctions, but it does not constitute a waiver of the right to jury, and a court has no power under these circumstances to refuse to conduct a jury trial.
The Appellate Court pointed out that the Standing Order states, “Failure to comply with any provision of this Standing Order without substantial justification may result in monetary sanctions.” (See Code Civ. Proc., § 575.2 [authorizing imposition of sanctions for failure to comply with trial court rules when the rules specify sanctions may be imposed]; see also Code Civ. Proc., § 177.5 [“A judicial officer shall have the power to impose reasonable money sanctions … for any violation of a lawful court order by a person, done without good cause or substantial justification”].) Notably, the Standing Order does not provide failing to prepare for trial per its requirements can result in a jury waiver.3“
“But, more to the point, even if the Standing Order had provided that failing to comply with its provisions could result in a jury waiver, it would be unenforceable. “The fundamental flaw here is that the court imposed a remedy for the violation of its order that was not authorized by law.”
Guo Zhang Chen v. Lin (Cal. App. Dep’t Super. Ct., Nov. 14, 2019, No. BV 033055) 2019 WL 6341283