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New Economic Democracy: By Judicial Mandate

NCJ Number
J W McDonald
Date Published
125 pages
This paper examines current trends, exposure levels, ancillary costs and effects of civil litigation against public-sector agencies, with focus on law enforcement in California.
Results indicate that in the past 25 years, California tort law and Federal law have moved the public sector from a state of extensive immunity to one of extensive liability. The repudiation of sovereign immunity by judicial mandate has resulted in dramatic increases in litigation at both State and Federal levels. Parallel with the increase in tort actions has been the staggering magnitude of damage awards. The experience of law enforcement agencies in civil rights actions clearly support an assessment of law enforcement as a high risk function by its very nature. Phenomenal jury awards have led to major economic dislocations in California and nationwide, including unavailability of insurance coverage for many governmental agencies and municipal bankruptcy. Corrective legislative efforts in California have so far been unsuccessful. The vested concerns of law enforcement will require a higher standard of effort toward mitigative actions that can reduce law enforcement's liability exposure. This will require the development of a well-informed counter-constituency motivated toward capping this civil neurosis and moving the legislative bottleneck and developing governmental insurance alternatives. In addition, efforts are needed to provide institutionalized risk management structures designed to focus on potential root causes of litigation through enhanced policies, administration, and personnel management. 16 tables, 1 illustration, chapter footnotes, 118 references, and 51 case citations.