Expert Witness Fees May Not Be Awarded Under Private Attorney General Statute

In a decision being closely watched by many, the California Supreme Court holds today in Olson v. Automobile Club of Southern California, case no. S143999 (Feb. 28, 2008), that Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, the state’s “private attorney general” statute, does not authorize a court to award expert witness fees in addition to the attorney fees explicitly authorized by the statute.

As the court notes, the statute explicitly authorizes an award of “attorney fees” and is silent about expert witness fees. Which should have made for an easy decision.

Yet the court is compelled to delve behind the plain language of the statute. The decision is a good primer on how to read behind the lines of a statute by examining its enactment and amendments relative to existing case law.  That doesn’t work to change the plain meaning in this case, though.

There is sure to be more posted by other bloggers. I’ll provide links as I find them.