The state Judicial Branch has announced a host of initiatives to improve court-sponsored alternative dispute resolution in order to keep up with the demand to resolve civil cases short of trial.
New initiatives announced by Chief Justice Chase Rogers will include expanding the number of judges who are trained to serve as mediators, to begin later this year. There are currently 60 judge and judge trial referees available for the Judicial Branch’s ADR program, but many are not available to serve for lengthy periods of time as mediatiors.
Increasing the number of judges who are available to provide mediation services on more than a limited basis to help parties reach a settlement will fill vacancies created by several Superior Court judges who left the bench in recent years to start their own mediation practices in recent years, Rogers said.
Another new initiative is to have attorneys appointed to serve as mediators. Rogers said the attorneys could be hired by the branch on a case by case basis, similar to the current appointments of attorney trial referees.
“For example, attorneys with particular expertise in construction law, commercial disputes or probate law could be an invaluable asset in resolving those kinds of cases, where a substantice expertise in a specialized area is essential to understanding the issues of the case,” Rogers said.
Robert Holzberg, who left the bench as a Superior Court Judge in 2012 to start a mediation practice with Pullman & Comley, said the idea of having lawyers with legal specialties available as mediators could be an attractive option for parties seeking mediation options. “It’s important to have mediators who have the skillsets to resolve cases, many of which involve complex issues of law,” he said.
The Judicial Branch also plans to create a new pilot mediation docket, which would operate in a less-formal manner that more closely resemble private mediation. Although still in the early stages of planning, the pilot program would provide parties with access to client lounges and extended hours, so mediation meetings could be held beyond court operation hours of 5 p.m. One suggestion is to have full-time judge mediators and support staff assigned to the docket.
Rogers shared the proposals at a recent seminar hosted by the Connecticut Trial Lawyer’s Association. Rogers said the improvements would be made in response to comments and suggestions she received from recent focus groups about court sponsored ADR programs.
The focus groups were comprised of lawyers, judges and court staff members who had experience with the mediation programs in different practice areas, including civil litigation, foreclosure and landlord and tenant law. The focus groups suggested that more could be done to make the judicial mediation program, called Judicial ADR, more user friendly.
“Many of them commented on the current Judicial mediation program, saying that it was helpful, but hampered by the difficulty in finding mediators with appropriate expertise and sufficient time to mediate,” Rogers told the group of about 200 lawyers who attended the seminar. “And without those essential ingredients, we know we cannot have complete success in this area, particularly since the skill set needed for mediation is quite different from that needed for adjudication of a dispute.”
A pilot mediation docket would allow parties to have quicker access to judges who provide mediation, resulting in quicker turnarounds of mediation cases. Even with an improved electronic process for signing up for mediation in civil, non family court cases, it can take up to two months or longer to schedule a mediation meeting.
Richard Silver, a senior partner of Silver Golub & Teitell in Stamford who organized the April 11 event before the CTLA, praised the efforts by the Judicial Branch to smooth the process of court-sponsored ADR.
“I’m very appreciative that the Chief Justice has been looking very closely at a mediation docket,” Silver said. “She mentioned that there have been a number of experienced judges who have left and gone into private mediation, and she mentioned she wants to have the mediation system be easier and more effective.”