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Archive for the ‘Court ADR Across the U.S.’ Category

RSI Receives Irwin Cantor Award and Two New Resources Now Available on AboutRSI.org

Susan M. Yates, June 14th, 2019

Dear Friend of RSI,

We have had a wonderful start to the summer here at RSI! From a trip to Toronto to new updates to AboutRSI.org, I am delighted to share some exciting updates and our latest resources with you!

RSI Receives Irwin Cantor Award

In May, Director of Research Jennifer Shack and I attended the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ 56th Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada. While there, RSI was awarded the AFCC’s Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award. The Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award was created to recognize innovation in court-connected or court-related programs. All of us at RSI thank the AFCC for this honor and for recognizing the work we are doing. We look forward to continuing to serve the court ADR community!

Jennifer Shack, me, and AFCC Executive Director Peter Salem at the AFCC Conference.

Introducing Our New Online Dispute Resolution Special Topic!

I am excited to introduce our new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Special Topic with you! With courts across the country exploring ODR at a rapid pace, our latest special topic provides a thoughtful context and guidance on how court administrators and stakeholders should approach the intersection of technology and dispute resolution. The special topic contains a history of ODR, considerations for courts, and a compilation of helpful resources.

RSI’s Newly Updated Court ADR Across the U.S.

Are you curious about what court ADR looks like across the country? Look no further than our Court ADR Across the U.S. which is the most comprehensive collection of court ADR resources for state courts throughout the country. Our newly updated resource contains the latest court ADR information for each state. Each state page provides an overview of relevant statutes, statewide court ADR rules, policies, evaluations, studies, and articles.

If you enjoy or utilize our resources, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to RSI here. Your donation will be put to work improving access to justice through quality court ADR.

Thank you as always for your support and your interest in our mission of improving access to justice by enhancing court ADR.

Susan M. Yates

Executive Director

Resolution Systems Institute

Study of Child Protection Mediation in Michigan Finds High Rates of Satisfaction, Permanency Effects

Jennifer Shack, May 29th, 2019

The Michigan State Court Administrative Office recently released its report on child protection mediation (CPM) in the state. In Michigan, CPM is conducted by community mediation centers associated with the courts. The study looked at CPM at five of these centers, which collectively provide services for 24 counties. It focused on descriptive statistics, participant and stakeholder perspectives, and time to permanency. The report found that CPM participants have positive perspectives on the process, that stakeholders are largely supportive of it and that it reduces time to permanency.

Mediation in the five sites (Gaylord, Jackson, Marquette, Petoskey and Traverse City) is voluntary and primarily takes place early in the case, on average within 60 days of the filing of the petition. In the five sites, the number of mediated cases during the study period (January 2016 – October 15, 2018) ranged from six to 105.

Petoskey and Gaylor had participant experience data. In both, participants responded positively to each survey question asked. In Petoskey, participants said that they had the opportunity to express themselves, gained a better understanding of the issues, felt respected and felt the process was fair to them. In Gaylord, they had similarly high ratings for those topics, and also said they felt safe and believed the mediator was neutral.

The study included data from surveys statewide that asked those going through the traditional process and those going through CPM how satisfied they were with their experience. On three metrics, parties who went through CPM gave slightly higher ratings: case resolution, staff courtesy and courtesy of the judge.

The researchers interviewed ten stakeholders for the report. The stakeholders were asked about their perspectives on the effectiveness of CPM. The majority believed that CPM resulted in significant time and cost savings. They also felt that mediation was effective at improving family permanency and the parents’ relationships with child protection workers. On the other hand, they had some reservations about how often parents comply with mediation agreements.

The interviewees were also asked their perceptions of other parties’ willingness to participate in CPM. Their responses indicated that stakeholders were consistently likely, or very likely, to be willing to participate in CPM, with child protection workers relatively willing and guardians ad litem extremely willing to do so.

The researchers compared the average time to permanency in the CPM study sites to those in comparable sites that did not have CPM. They found variation in the time to permanency among the five sites, as well as the comparison sites, with Petoskey having a much longer time to permanency than any of the other sites. Overall, however, they found that time to permanency was 50 days shorter on average in CPM sites than in the comparison sites. The researchers also found that cases in the CPM sites were more likely to close within 2 years than those in the comparison sites. Again, there was significant variation among the sites.

It isn’t clear from the data provided that CPM was the cause of the shorter time to permanency or the higher closure rate. In Traverse City and Jackson, which had the shortest times to permanency, a very small percentage of cases was mediated (6 mediated cases, 145 cases closed for Traverse City and 9 cases mediated, 133 cases closed for Jackson), which calls into question how much of an effect CPM was on permanency at those sites.

Arizona Launches ODR Pilot Programs to Handle Family Court Cases

Nicole Wilmet, April 29th, 2019

In August 2018, the Supreme Court of Arizona released an Administrative Order authorizing the Superior Courts in both the Pinal and Yuma Counties to utilize an online dispute resolution (ODR) pilot project for family court cases. Both programs are approved to run for 12 months from the date of their implementation. Last year, the Yuma County program launched their program on December 3, 2018, and the Pinal County program recently launched their program on March 25, 2019. Both programs are free to parties and, in most cases, eliminate the need for parties to go to the courthouse. The decision of which cases are eligible to participate in the program are made by each county’s Conciliation Service Departments (“CSD”). According to the press releases for both programs, when selecting cases to participate in the program, the CSD will consider “the issue to be decided and other factors.”

To learn more about each of these ODR pilot programs, this month I spoke with Nicole LaConte, Court Program Specialist at the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts. The vendor for both programs is Court Innovations. After the CSD has identified eligible cases for the program, the CSD then uploads the parties’ information into the platform and the platform sends a notice to the parties inviting them to participate. Once a party agrees to participate, a facilitator is assigned to their case. The facilitators for the ODR program are current members of the CSD staff who are trained court mediators. Aside from learning how to utilize the platform, these facilitators are not required to undergo any specific technology training. The platform is designed so that the communication between the parties and the facilitators is asynchronistic, meaning that parties have 24-hour access the ODR platform. As a result, they can upload materials, communicate, and respond to their court facilitator at their convenience. In Pinal, the platform is designed so that the facilitator can speak to only one party at a time and the court is currently working on adding the ability for the facilitator to speak to the parties at the same time. Additionally, in Yuma, the platform was structured so that the Attorney General can also participate if the parties are deciding something that affects child support.

The program was designed for parties to access the service from their own personal computer or mobile device without having to go to the courthouse. Although similar, one notable difference between the two programs is that the Yuma program will be handling only post-decree cases and the Pinal program will be handling both pre-decree and post-decree cases. The goals for both programs is to broaden litigants’ access to the court and reduce the number of court hearings. To evaluate the programs, litigant satisfaction surveys will be sent out and the court will measure the time to disposition as well as the reduction in court hearings. Since both programs are currently in the pilot stage, there is no information about the programs in either county’s court rules. However, additional information about the programs is available at both the Yuma County ODR program website and the Pinal County ODR program website.

New Jersey Legislature Tackles State’s High Foreclosure Rate

Nicole Wilmet, March 21st, 2019

Despite employing a number of practices in response to the mortgage crisis in 2008, New Jersey has had one of the highest foreclosure rates among all states since 2015. In a continued effort to address this issue, New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner established a Special Committee on Residential Foreclosures in 2017 to review current practices, policies, court rules and legislation and develop suggestions for reform. Last year, the Committee released its report, which summarizes the history and current state of foreclosure in New Jersey and includes recommendations for reform. Towards the end of their report, the Committee notes that not only do unresolved foreclosures lead to thousands of cases remaining on court dockets, but they also depress property values, burden municipalities and reduce tax revenues.

Building on the recommendations from the Committee, the New Jersey legislature is currently considering a ten-bill package that would reform the residential mortgage foreclosure process. Introduced at the end of January, this package of ten bills seeks to expedite the foreclosure process, decrease the amount of time foreclosed properties remain on the market, and make the foreclosure mediation program permanent. The following chart summaries each bill being considered.

Bill Number

Summary

S3411

Recommends revising the Fair Foreclosure Act (“FFA”) to require that notices of intention to foreclose are filed at least 30 days (but no more than 180 days) before foreclosure commences. Additionally, the bill also requires that these notices also include a notice to homeowners that they are entitled to housing counseling through the Foreclosure Mediation Program.

S3412

Requires the Department of Community Affairs to create a database with an interactive map that details the foreclosed properties in the state. To fund this database, this bill also establishes a $30 fee that would be collected when deeds are recorded.

S3413

Modifies the foreclosure process to expand the definition of what constitutes a vacant and abandoned property and requires that sales of foreclosed properties occur within 60 days of a foreclosure judgment.

S3414

Allows all common interest community associations to record liens for unpaid assessments.

S3415

Requires creditors and their in-state agents to file their contact information with the Superior Court.

S3416

Clarifies that the New Jersey Residential Mortgage Lending Act also applies to any out-of-state person involved in residential mortgage lending in the state.

S3417

Requires anyone acting as a mortgage servicer to obtain a license from the state Department of Baking and Insurance.

S3418

Reduces the statute of limitations for residential mortgage foreclosure actions under the FFA from 20 years to six years from the date on which the homeowner defaulted.

S3464

Focuses on expediting residential mortgage foreclosure proceedings. Under this bill, sheriffs would be required to conduct foreclosure sales within 120 days of receiving orders to foreclose.

S1244

Codifies the Foreclosure Mediation Program and makes several adjustments to the program. These changes include notifying homeowners about the program when they receive their intent to foreclose and again when a mortgage foreclosure complaint has been filed against a property. The bill also requires that these written notices must be available in both English and Spanish.

Although these bills have several more hurdles to pass before becoming law, their introduction indicates cooperation among the executive, legislative and judicial branches during the state’s foreclosure reformation.

Ohio Civil Stalking Mediation Pilot Shows Promise for the Future

Jennifer Shack, February 28th, 2019

In recent years, the Courts of Common Pleas around Ohio have been experiencing a sharp increase in civil stalking petition filings. In response, the Supreme Court Commission on Dispute Resolution decided to start a pilot mediation program for ten jurisdictions. The 18-month pilot ended in December. I was privileged to be asked to assess the pilot program so that the Commission on Dispute Resolution could make an informed decision about whether to continue the program and expand it statewide. Though data collection proved problematic, there was enough information to determine that mediation could be useful and safe for these cases, and that referral to mediation can significantly increase the number of settlements and decrease the number of full hearings held.

Civil stalking cases generally involve a pattern of behavior that isn’t serious enough to be criminal. The vast majority of cases involve people with a current or past relationship of some sort. In the Ohio pilot, almost half of the cases in which the relationship between the parties was reported, involved neighbors. Others were co-workers, former in-laws and ex-romantic partners.

Mediation in the Ohio pilot was voluntary, with referral generally occurring when the parties arrived for the full hearing. The counties differ as to who conducts the mediations, with some referring cases to independent mediators and some being mediated by a judge not associated with the case. For all cases, mediation is conducted in a shuttle format, with the petitioner and respondent in different rooms.

The reported number of mediations for the ten pilot programs ranged from 0 to 14, for a total of 52 mediations combined. The agreement rate for the 52 cases was 71%. Agreements tended to call for there to be no contact between the parties, with 12 of 15 containing only terms that were meant to keep the parties apart. Three, which involved neighbors, attempted to address the underlying causes of the conflict between the parties. They included terms such as keeping pets from the other party’s property, keeping common areas clean and removing lighting that encroached on the other party’s property.

While no contact agreements may be sufficient for cases involving ex-romantic partners or former in-laws, for those parties who are neighbors, it can be more challenging. For them, creative terms that address the underlying causes of conflict may be more effective in keeping those parties from later returning to court. I therefore recommended that future mediator training include methods for identifying underlying causes of conflict and helping parties to devise creative agreement terms that can address those causes.

Few parties completed surveys. Of the 10 parties who did, most were pleased with their experience and would recommend it to others. Most felt they had input into the outcome and all felt they had the opportunity to talk about most or all of their issues and concerns. In comments, the parties said mediation helped them by giving them voice and by allowing them to resolve their conflict without going to court. One surveyed party, who wanted a protection order, thought the mediation was a waste of time.

Three limited issues were also identified. A few ineligible cases were referred to mediation in one county. Of the ten parties surveyed in other counties, three believed that their mediation agreement was enforceable in court when it was not. Further, two of five parties who were asked whether they felt they could choose whether or not to mediate responded only “somewhat,” indicating that they didn’t have complete self-determination. These parties had been told of the opportunity to mediate by the judge hearing their case, and one indicated it was for this reason that she felt a little pressured to mediate.

In one county, enough information was provided to determine what effect mediation had overall. As cases were referred to mediation when they arrive for the full hearing, we can assume that without referral to mediation, those 44 cases in which the parties arrived at the full hearing would not have settled and would have proceeded to a full hearing. As 19 of the 44 cases were referred to mediation, and only two of those continued to a full hearing, mediation referral had the effect of reducing the number of full hearings from 44 to 27, or by 38%. Further, 11 of the cases referred to mediation resulted in an agreement. With 12 cases settling prior to the full hearing, this means that referral to mediation almost doubled the number of settlements to 23.

The data from the above county indicates that mediation of civil stalking cases can have an impact similar to that of mediation for other types of cases, with about 20% of cases filed being referred to mediation and 11% being settled through the process. It can also safely address the needs of the parties – to have voice and to avoid court. When implementing this type of program, courts should be aware of possible pitfalls, including party misunderstanding of agreement enforceability and the impact of judge referral on parties’ belief that they can choose to mediate.