Seth Sandronsky Jun. 30, 2016, 1:59pm

Litigation funder Bentham IMF is investing $300,000 of $1 million in total seed money to fund a new "Civil Justice Research Center" at the University of California-Irvine School of Law. 

A Bentham IMF press release states that the company’s $300,000 commitment will help the new center to “serve as an academic and intellectual counterweight to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform." 

In addition, Richard K. Bridgford, a class-action attorney and founding partner of Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian in Newport Beach, has nearly matched Bentham IMF’s sum with an investment of $250,000.

“Public institutions are heavily dependent upon private funds,” Joshua Paul Davis, associate dean for academic affairs and director of the Center for Law and Ethics at the University of San Francisco School of Law, told the Northern California Record. “Ideally, public institutions would be wholly independent and free of private funds. But that is not the world we live in.” 

Despite funding from groups and individuals with financial interest in the civil justice system, the head of the center asserts that its research will be independent.

“We are just at the beginning of creating the Civil Justice Research Institute,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the U.C. Irvine School of Law and founding Chair of its Civil Justice Research Center, told the Northern California Record. “It is intended to do independent, careful research on access to the civil justice system.” 

However, business interests sometimes experience difficulty in the civil justice system, according to Julie Griffiths, regional director of California Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse. 

“I suspect that the people who will have the least access to the courts in the United States, and in California in particular, are small and medium-sized business owners who will not be studied by the UC-Irvine Civil Justice Research Institute," she said. “Attorneys that target those types of businesses do so because they are unable to afford the costs to defend themselves.” 

Court access and costs intersect in other ways. 

“Bentham’s press release also expresses concern about 'compulsory arbitration clauses' and “restrictions on class action lawsuits,” Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, said. “I can only guess that the litigation funder wishes to fund academic articles that promote more lawsuits over cheaper and equally fair options, like arbitration. 

“Arbitration is a fair and efficient means of resolving disputes. When you or I have a problem with a company or a service, we don’t want to have to sue them, we want our problem solved. If that problem can be solved through arbitration, then fine. Plaintiffs’ lawyers dislike arbitration because they don’t make as much money on it as they do through lawsuits.” 

The Northern California Record asked Chemerinsky to comment on the nature of metrics to evaluate UC-Irvine’s Civil Justice Research Center. 

“I think we will assess it as we go along, but since it is just at the outset it is premature to speak of how we will evaluate it,” Chemerinsky said. “I hope to have an executive director in place this fall and its work will begin then. I am very excited about it and its potential impact.”

Editor's note: The Northern California Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

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