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
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
“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.