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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals to Launch Appellate Mediation Program

Nicole Wilmet, February 27th, 2020

Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals will be launching an appellate mediation program. The Fifth District Court is the largest appellate court in Ohio and serves the Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas counties. Recent news about the appellate mediation program reports that the program will be voluntary and limited to civil cases. The program is expected to launch by spring 2020.

According to the Court’s announcement about the program, the Court is currently in the process of drafting a local mediation rule. Once drafted, the proposed rule will be published on the Court’s website with a request for comment from the public and legal community. Recent news reports that once published, the rule will be available for comment for 30 days. The Court has selected Aletha Carver to serve as the Court’s mediator. Those interested in additional information about the program should please contact Ms. Carver at amcarver@starkcountyohio.gov.

RSI Presents “Building Your Court’s Civil ADR Program” Workshop Series

Just Court ADR, February 21st, 2020

Resolution Systems Institute is pleased to share a three-part series entitled Building Your Court’s Civil ADR Program. These three videos are from an October 2019 training RSI’s Executive Director Susan Yates presented in New Mexico. RSI thanks the Judicial Branch of New Mexico for hosting the seminar and making these videos available.   

About the Three Video Sessions:

Session 1: Design Your Program

This session addresses the importance of seeking input and how to develop support for the project. Susan discusses how to decide on which ADR process to use by addressing topics such as whether participation should be mandatory and whether the program should focus on any particular types of cases. Susan also discusses issues from budgeting to how to serve self-represented litigants.

Session 2: Work with the Neutrals in Your Program

This session covers questions from how to find neutrals to how to remove them from your program. Topics include setting neutral qualifications, picking neutrals, training neutrals and selecting neutrals for particular cases. The session also covers neutral ethics, retaining neutrals, continuing education and designing a complaint process. Susan discusses how to decide how much to pay neutrals and the costs and benefits of paid vs. volunteer neutrals.

Session 3: Administer, Track, Evaluate and Promote Your Program

This session focuses on how to manage a court program and ensure it provides quality services. This requires identifying the person who will wake up every morning with the goal of making the program work; figuring out how to collect the data needed to monitor the program and present it to decision-makers; arranging for evaluation of the program at appropriate intervals; and ensuring stakeholders continue to value the program.

RSI Staff Gather in Chicago and Visit the Adler Planetarium

Just Court ADR, February 20th, 2020

This month, our staff gathered in our Chicago office for our annual winter gathering! In the morning our staff met to discuss our 2020 goals and projects and in the afternoon, we braced the cold Chicago weather to visit the Adler Planetarium.

Although some of us are based in our Chicago office, our RSI staff are also hard at work operating programs across Illinois and working remotely from Maine and Michigan. As such, our winter gathering is a wonderful opportunity for us to come together and connect in one place!

My Favorite Resource Featuring Howard Herman

Nicole Wilmet, February 4th, 2020

Our series My Favorite Resource, features interviews with ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite resources. This month, I spoke with Howard Herman, Director of the ADR Program for the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, to learn about his favorite ADR resource.

NW: What is one of your favorite ADR resources?

HH: One of my favorite resources is the book Bringing Peace Into the Room, edited by Daniel Bowling and David Hoffman.

NW: Why do you value this particular resource?

HH:  The book is particularly valuable because it consists of a series of short, approachable essays concerning the qualities that make a truly effective mediator. The book links theory to practice in a direct, easily understandable way. Rather than prescriptions about what all mediators should do, the book provides a set of examples of practitioners authentically developing their own approaches grounded in their awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses. I was particularly moved by the essay “Tears” by David Hoffman, which helped me change my approach to the emotions I feel when I’m mediating.

NW: How did you first learn about this resource?

HH:  I first became aware of this book right when it came out – back in 2003 – but it remains every bit as relevant today.

NW: For those unfamiliar with this resource, what is one part of this resource that you wouldn’t want someone to miss?

HH: A particular feature, not to be missed, is the inclusion of stimulating and challenging reflective practice questions at the conclusion of each essay. For the past 15+ years, I’ve led reflective practice groups for the mediators on the panel of the Northern District of California. The questions raised by Bringing Peace Into the Room continue to guide many of the discussions we have each month as mediators examine their cases in an effort to improve their practices.

Early Resolution Triage Program for Family Cases Increases Efficiency without Reducing Satisfaction

Jennifer Shack, February 3rd, 2020

In Anchorage, Alaska, an Early Resolution Program for family cases has reduced time to resolution, reduced staff time spent on cases and had no impact on the number of post-disposition motions to modify, according to a recently completed evaluation. The program includes triage, dispute resolution and attorney assistance with documents. Stacey Marz reports on her study in, “Faster and as Satisfying: An Evaluation of Alaska’s Early Resolution Triage Program” (Family Court Review, 2019).

In the Early Resolution Program (ERP), cases involving two self-represented litigants are reviewed by a staff attorney to determine if they are appropriate for the program. The staff attorney generally screens out cases involving: current or serious domestic violence incidents; issues that require evidentiary findings; a pending child abuse or neglect case; or a non-parent who is asserting a custodial claim.

If a case is appropriate, the parties are notified of the opportunity to participate. If they agree to do so, they are either provided two unbundled lawyers who work collaboratively (and only on dispute resolution), a court mediator or a settlement judge to help them resolve the case. If the parties reach agreement, they go to court to finalize their divorce approximately three weeks after entering the program. There, a staff attorney completes the final documents, including the findings of fact and conclusions of law, parenting plan, divorce decree, and child support order. The judge reviews and signs all the documents, which are then copied and distributed in the courtroom. The judge then grants the divorce and the parties leave with all the documents.

For the evaluation, Marz looked at 299 ERP cases from 2011 to 2013 that resolved through settlement and compared them to a control group of 392 cases closed before the ERP was implemented. These cases followed a traditional court track involving an initial status conference, a pre-trial conference and a trial or settlement conference. For the study, the pre-ERP cases were screened the same way as cases filed after the implementation of the ERP in order to make them comparable.   

Marz found a high rate of resolution for ERP participants, with 80% reaching agreement in a three-hour dispute resolution session. In addition, ERP cases were able to close more quickly. The time from filing to closure for ERP cases was a median of 42 days as compared to a median of 104 for cases in the control group.

As a proxy for party satisfaction with the process, Marz also looked at the number of motions filed per case to modify the judgment. The assumption is that parties file motions to modify soon after the final judgment if they are unhappy with the outcome. She found no significant difference between the two groups: for the ERP group,.18 motions were filed per case within two years of disposition, compared to .22 motions per case for the control group. According to Marz, this indicates that concerns that the ERP process was too quick and parties didn’t have enough time to think about the issues were not supported.  

The last item Marz examined was the number of processing steps staff undertook for each case. For cases undergoing ERP, there are 28 to 30 processing steps, taking a total of 240 minutes (4 hours). The number of steps for the average non-ERP case is 49, taking a total of 1,047 minutes (17.45 hours). Marz notes that the reason for this increased efficiency is two-fold: First, once the staff attorney screens and accepts a case into ERP, the file stays with the attorney, eliminating many case-processing steps that occur in typical cases. Second, there are great efficiencies in scheduling multiple cases during the same ERP hearing block, especially when most cases resolve in one court event.

The evaluation indicates that the Early Resolution Program in Anchorage has increased efficiency in cases involving self-represented litigants without inducing parties to enter into agreements that aren’t sustainable.