June 2019
Tips from the Bench: Judge Ronald Styn

By Mellania E. Safarian

Clark Hill PLC

1) What was your path to the bench?

Judge Styn is a San Diego native and graduated from Chula Vista High School. Judge Styn earned his B.A. degree from the University of Redlands where he spent his summers working at Disneyland.

After graduating from Stanford Law School, Judge Styn clerked for a federal judge. Shortly thereafter, he worked as a trial attorney for the Food and Drug Administration. Judge Styn briefly taught Civil Procedure and Antitrust Law at the University of Kentucky Law School before returning to San Diego. He then joined a firm where he practiced civil litigation and real estate litigation for over 30 years. Amongst other things, Judge Styn was a founder of the San Diego Branch of the ABTL and served as its President. He was also an original Master of the Louis M. Welsh Inn of Court.

After being in private practice for 30 years, and at the encouragement of several of his peers, Judge Styn applied to become a judge and was ultimately appointed in April 2010. He has been on the bench for 19 years. Judge Styn stresses that he did "nothing special” to become a judge but his outstanding record speaks for itself.

2) Any tips for newer attorneys appearing in your courtroom?

Prior to filing any motion, Judge Styn recommends trying to contact opposing counsel to meet and confer on the issue. He believes many disputes can be resolved informally and without court intervention. At the very least, it is better to try and informally resolve the dispute before filing a motion in his court.

When filing a memorandum, Judge Styn suggests beginning with the words “Supporting,” “Opposing,” or “Reply” in the caption so that the court can easily identify the pleadings. He does not recommend using footnotes, especially because the small font violates court rules, and emphasizes always checking for and following specific courtroom rules.

Judge Styn also cannot stress the importance of speaking up at trial, as this is the biggest complaint he receives from jurors on a regular basis. He recommends not wasting the juries’ time at trial by being redundant or by having unorganized exhibits. He suggests organizing exhibits by witness or by grouping frequently used exhibits together. And most importantly, do not underestimate the juries’ intelligence because they notice everything, so Judge Styn reminds us all to dress professionally. Finally, don’t read your arguments. The world won’t come to an end if you leave something out.

3) Has the McMillin Albany decision changed the way you view/manage SB-800 cases?

Judge Styn handles a bulk of the construction defect cases in San Diego. The McMillin Albany decision has not changed his view or management of SB-800 cases. The primary reason being, that the bulk of the management lies squarely with the discovery referees. Nevertheless, it has changed the number of demurrers being filed as tort causes of action can no longer be alleged.

4) Do many construction defect cases go to trial? If so, which ones are more likely to go to trial? Which ones are not?

Generally speaking, it is pretty rare for a construction defect case to go to trial. At most there are perhaps 2-3 cases a year that will go to trial. The cases most likely to go to trial are ones that involve serious financial or insurance issues, where there is a cross-complainant, or a mechanics lien filed by a contractor. Typical cases, those involving homeowners or a homeowner association, tend to settle unless there is a unique issue or an issue with respect to insurance coverage.

5)Do you use a Case Management Order (“CMO”) or a Pretrial Order (“PTO”)? If so, do you have a preference on what is included in the CMO/PTO?

Judge Styn recommends checking the court’s website for form CMO’s. There is a different form CMO for each of the various kinds of construction defect cases. The form CMO will ask for all the necessary information, including information regarding the procedure and timing of the case as it pertains to discovery and disclosures.

6) Do you have any rules in your court with respect to managing construction defect cases? If so, what are those rules?

Construction defect cases will typically involve multiple parties, including several sub-contractors. It is not necessary for each of these parties to state their appearances at every single hearing. Judge Styn generally only needs appearances from the main parties. Otherwise, much time is spent simply stating appearances for the record. If you are not one of the main parties, Judge Styn recommends announcing your appearance only if you need to be heard on the matter.