The U.C. Irvine School of Law is launching a research institute to study factors that affect access to U.S. courts, funded with about $1 million in private donations.
Donors to the new Civil Justice Research Institute include the litigation funding company Bentham IMF, which has committed $300,000, and class-action lawyer Richard Bridgford, of Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian, who has committed $250,000.
“The Institute expects to serve as an academic and intellectual counterweight to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for Legal Reform, an outspoken critic of litigation, generally,” Bentham IMF said in a press release.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the U.C. Irvine School of Law, said he conceived of the research institute about a year ago while writing his book, to be titled “Closing the Courthouse Door: How the Supreme Court Made Your Life Unenforceable,” which is scheduled for release in the fall.
“Access to courts is something I really care about and have been focusing on for a long time,” said Chemerinsky.
The institute will be based on the law school campus and will conduct independent academic research, he said.
According to the Bentham IMF release, the institute will study factors that limit access to courts, inadequate funding of state and local courts, mandatory arbitration, restrictions on class-action lawsuits and limits on punitive damages.
Chemerinsky will be the founding chair of the institute. Although it is still searching for an executive director, its advisory board will be chaired by Roman Silberfeld , of Robins Kaplan and will also include a representative from Bentham.
Silberfeld said that the institute will distinguish itself by providing independent research on court access.
“There are other research institutes ... but largely those are sort of interest group-based,” said Silberfeld. “What we need is good solid information about what’s going on, and what we don’t need is more advocacy about it, or more spin if you will.”
He said the CJRI will put out scholarly articles and reports about the U.S. court system.
“The Chamber [of Commerce] has a decade head start — they’re well funded and they have an agenda to be sure,” said Silberfeld. “This is not so much counter their opinion as it is to just put the facts out there.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform calls itself “the preeminent voice on tort reform” and claims that “excessive” lawsuits hurt everyone.
“We wish them the best of luck in their endeavor,” said Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.