NY attorney Robert Friedman discusses mediation and arbitration in the court system.
New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks recently announced a plan to revitalize the New York court system’s commitment to Alternative Dispute Resolution(“ADR”) building upon the framework of the courts’ existing statewide programs. The new plan will promote the goals of DiFiore’s “Excellence Initiative” by helping to eliminate case backlogs and enhancing the quality of justice.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR), comprising of mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation and collaborative law, among other approaches, has proven a meaningful, efficient and cost-effective way to resolve disputes in appropriate cases. It is generally confidential, less formal and less stressful than traditional court proceedings. ADR, and particularly mediation, can provide parties with greater opportunities to be more fully heard. ADR can also help parties gain insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their case in deciding whether to proceed with litigation.
The court system, through its ADR Office, collaborates with trial courts and Community Dispute Resolution Centers to offer parties access to free or reduced-fee ADR services in a wide range of disputes, from small claims to family matters to complex business disputes. Typically, parties are referred to these services by the judge handling the case, with ADR services provided by trained volunteer mediators on court rosters, or by court staff, depending on the program. While the court system’s ADR Program has grown over the years, with thousands of New Yorkers obtaining referrals to and benefiting from ADR services, ADR continues to be an underutilized mechanism for resolving disputes and moving cases forward in the civil justice process.
The new initiative will expand the use of ADR within the courts, with a focus on early resolution of civil disputes which are deemed suitable for the ADR process. Among the existing programs is an early mediation pilot in New York County targeting certain contractual disputes that follows the “presumptive ADR” model, in which parties must participate in mediation or some other form of ADR before the case can proceed in court. This ADR model, which does not require a judge’s referral and has been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions, will be expanded to other courts and categories of cases.
“Though not a substitute for the court process, alternative dispute resolution, if used appropriately, can serve as a supplement to an effective, efficient civil justice system. We have made steady progress in bringing alternative dispute resolution into the mainstream, yet we must do more if it is to become an integral part of our court culture and civil justice process. ” said DiFiore. “Mediation, along with other forms of ADR, has high rates of success, allowing parties to focus on the issues of their dispute and helping preserve relationships, among cost-saving and other benefits. A valuable case-management tool, ADR must play a greater role in the court system’s efforts to expedite cases and enhance access to justice. The initiative announced today will lead to expansion of ADR in the Supreme Court, lower civil courts, Family Court and Surrogate’s Courts” said Marks. “Litigation of civil disputes often costs too much and takes too long to be affordable by the parties, and inefficiency in resolution of disputes contributes to overburdened court dockets that place enormous demands on limited judicial system resources.”
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