Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to processes that are “alternatives” to going to trial to resolve civil disputes. Because ADR so often produces settlements, courts in many localities require people in some kinds of cases to go through one or another of the ADR processes before their cases can proceed towards trial.

Normally the ADR service providers do not work for the court, but are on a list of people the court maintains who have special training in their field. The people ordered to use ADR can chose the service provider they want to use from this list.

1. Court-Ordered (‘judicial”) Mediation

Mediation is a descendant of dispute-resolution methods used by village or tribal elders in ancient times. In mediation, both sides discuss their dispute with a neutral person – usually a professionally-trained third person called a mediator. The mediator’s role is to help both sides understand the different points of view, explore possible solutions, and create agreements everyone can accept.

The mediator has no power to impose a solution. If mediation does not produce a settlement, the case continues on through the court system.

2. Court-Ordered (“judicial”) Arbitration (non-binding)

Arbitration is a kind of informal trial. In arbitration, both sides present oral testimony, documents and other tangible exhibits to a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, who is empowered to make a decision about the dispute (usually called an “award”).

If either side is not happy with the “award,” he or she can ask that the case be returned to the court system. However, if neither side asks for a trial (called a “trial de novo”) the award becomes the court’s judgment and is generally enforceable to the same extent as a court judgment.

3. Neutral Case Evaluation

Neutral case evaluation is a conference with an independent attorney, who listens to and reviews information each side of a dispute provides about the case. Usually the evaluator has some expertise in the subject matter of the lawsuit, and will give his or her opinion about what might happen if the case went to trial. Evaluators can also help parties develop a plan for managing the case.

Many people use the information the evaluator gives them to reach an agreement on their own, or with the help of a mediator.

4. Settlement Conferences

Settlement conferences are designed to encourage the resolution of cases before they go to trial. They may be provided by court rule, ordered by the court, or strongly suggested by a judge. There are “settlement mentors” – experienced lawyers who look for ways to settle the case. These conferences are informal and can be scheduled by the court before or on the morning of trial.

Settlement conferences are not confidential: any information shared with the settlement mentor may be shared with the judge. The judge may also become involved in the settlement discussions.

5. Temporary Judge Trials

A temporary judge is an independent attorney chosen by the two sides in a lawsuit to be a judge for just their case. Though not held in a courtroom, these trials are conducted just like any other superior court trial – except that there can be no jury, and the trial cannot last more than 5 days.

The temporary judge’s decision can be appealed to the superior court.



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