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Archive for the ‘Pilot Program’ Category

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.

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.

Connecticut Launches Online Dispute Resolution Program

Nicole Wilmet, January 29th, 2019

This month, Connecticut launched an online dispute resolution pilot program to resolve contract collection cases in the Hartford and New Haven Judicial Districts. This article reports that participation in the program is voluntary and that either party may opt-out of participating within 15 days of referral to the program. In both the notices to plaintiffs and defendants, the court notes that by participating in the program, both parties agree to give up their right to: a jury trial, file an appeal from the court’s decision, and to object to evidence presented by the either party.  

Plaintiffs wishing to participate in the ODR program must include an Online Dispute Resolution Answer Form and an Online Dispute Resolution Notice to Defendant with their complaint. Should both parties agree to participate in the program, the court will then give each side deadlines to exchange evidence and file evidence with the court. The court notes that examples of evidence in these cases include receipts, repair orders, warranties, cancelled checks, etc. Next, parties will be scheduled for a mediation session with a court mediator by video, telephone conference or in person. In the event that the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the court decides the case based on the papers that both parties have filed.  

Additional information about Connecticut’s new ODR program may be found on the court’s site or by emailing ODR@jud.ct.gov 

Utah Small Claims Court Launches New Online Dispute Resolution Pilot Program

Nicole Wilmet, December 3rd, 2018

In September, the Utah Supreme Court initiated an online dispute resolution (“ODR”) pilot program. The pilot program, which is housed at Utah’s West Valley City Justice Court, handles the court’s small claims cases. In its standing order announcing the program, the Utah Supreme Court says it believes that the new pilot program “will increase the participation rate of parties, assist the parties in resolving their disputes, and improve the quality and presentation of evidence at trial in those matters that cannot be resolved.”

Under the new program, plaintiffs must now either register for the court’s new ODR system within seven days of filing their claim or file a request for exemption from ODR. After being served with a claim, defendants will have fourteen days to either register for an ODR account or seek an exemption from participating in ODR. Parties will only be excused from participating in the ODR program for undue hardships. The court notes that undue hardships exist when parties are unable to access the online system without substantial difficulty or expense.

Parties utilizing the ODR system will work with a facilitator who will guide the parties through the ODR process and assist them in reaching a settlement. Facilitators will inform the parties of the process to be followed, the types of communications that parties may use, and establish timelines for the parties. Additionally, facilitators may request that the parties provide information and evidence about the merits of the case, their ability to pay, responses to the other party’s information, and their position on any proposed resolution of the plaintiff’s claim. Facilitators are also able to communicate privately with any party, at any time, for the purposes of facilitating a resolution.

Should the parties reach a settlement, they then may request their facilitator to prepare their online settlement agreement form, which will detail the terms of their agreement. Once completed, the court will enter the judgement. In the event that the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the facilitator will notify the court and the court will schedule a trial date for the parties. More information about the pilot program, including access to the court’s forms, may be found here.

U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan Launches Pilot Mediation Program for Pro Se Prisoners

Nicole Wilmet, August 27th, 2018

In June, the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan launched a two-year pilot mediation program for pro se prisoners. The Early Mediation Program for Pro Se Prisoner Civil Rights Cases will offer mediation as an alternative to litigation for pro se prisoners who have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). In its press release, the court reports that, in 2017, Michigan prisoners filed 248 civil rights suits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Among these cases, 97% of prisoners were pro se litigants.

Under the new pilot program, the District County Clerk’s Office notifies pro se prisoners about the pilot program when they file. After filing, court staff attorneys screen the prisoners’ civil rights cases. As the court explains, screening eliminates about half of the lawsuits filed due to prisoners’ not stating a legal claim, suing the wrong party, or seeking damages from someone who is entitled to legal immunity. If a case makes it through this screening, prisoners are required to watch an orientation video about the program. They also receive a packet from the court that contains additional information about the program, as well as information on how to file a motion to be excluded from the program. After screening, prisoner civil rights suits are stayed for 90 days and then referred to mediation.

As the court expounds, prisoners who choose to participate in the mediation program will participate in mediation via video conferencing from prison. Meanwhile, the mediator, prison officials, and a state lawyer will interact with prisoners during mediation from the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit. If parties are able to reach a settlement during mediation, the parties’ agreement will be added to the record and the court will enter an order dismissing the case, but will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of agreement. If parties do not settle the case within 90 days, the case will proceed forward in the litigation process.

With respect to neutrals, the court notes that 40 lawyers who have completed Paul Monicatii’s mediator training curriculum will serve as the program’s mediators. These mediators will be participating in the program without compensation.

Those interested in learning more about the program may read more about it here or contact David Ashenfelter, Public Information Officer for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, at David_Ashenfelter@mied.uscourts.gov to obtain a copy of the press release.