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February 26, 2024 Litigation

Officials tout court ADR programs

Mediation works in Missouri federal courts — and it works often. Every year, about 1,000 civil cases come through the mediation program at federal courthouses in western Missouri, which includes Kansas City. About 450 to 550 of those cases are resolved before trial by alternative dispute resolution, or ADR — a success rate of roughly 50%.

The ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and Judicial Division co-sponsored the webinar “What Judges and Court Staff Should Know About Court ADR.”

The ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and Judicial Division co-sponsored the webinar “What Judges and Court Staff Should Know About Court ADR.”

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U.S. Magistrate Judge W. Brian Gaddy of Kansas City has presided over 40 to 50 mediations. “It really was a surprise to me how successful this program is and how many cases are resolved in favorable fashion without endless litigation,” Gaddy said.

Gaddy discussed the state of ADR in Missouri during a Feb. 15 American Bar Association webinar, “What Judges and Court Staff Should Know About Court ADR,” co-sponsored by the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and the Judicial Division. The webinar brought together four court officials, all of whom endorsed court-sponsored ADR programs, which save time, money and generally increase satisfaction for participants compared with prolonged litigation.

In 1998, Congress required each federal district court to create its own alternative dispute resolution program and to promote the use of ADR in its district. The ADR Act of 1998 requires district courts to provide litigants in all civil cases with at least one ADR process and require litigants in all civil cases consider using ADR “at an appropriate stage in the litigation.”

In western Missouri federal courts, the Mediation and Assessment Program — better known as MAP — provides a format for parties to address civil disputes early in litigation, within a short time of a lawsuit being filed. Nearly all cases are randomly assigned to a magistrate judge, bankruptcy judge, the MAP director or an outside neutral for mediation or another form of ADR.

Laurel Stevenson directs the MAP program. While some people complain that mediation is directed too soon in the process, “oftentimes we find that it is very effective,” Stevenson said.

Collecting data is an important part of the program, and numbers on past cases are used extensively during settlement conferences and mediations, Gaddy said.

“It’s important to have those stats on what an individual judge does that may be assigned to the case — what the jury verdicts are, what types of damages have and have not been awarded, how the judges treat attorney fees,” Gaddy said. “It is really a helpful tool to me to say, ‘Five of these cases have been tried in front of this particular judge and there have been three plaintiffs verdicts’ or whatever the statistics may be.”

Maryland has a similar program in state courts — the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office, better known as MACRO, which promotes alternative dispute resolution statewide. The program supports the growth of ADR practitioners and offers resources to help the public access ADR services.

All 24 state circuit courts in Maryland offer some form of ADR for domestic cases, and many offer ADR in non-domestic civil cases. More than half of all cases in Maryland state courts that used ADR settled before trial in fiscal year 2022, according to MARCO’s latest annual report. Approximately 56% of non-domestic civil cases reached full or partial agreements in remote video sessions, and 69% reached full or partial agreements in in-person sessions.

Maryland keeps detailed records of ADR cases, including tracking what works and what doesn’t work in mediation. For example, one study evaluated the effectiveness of various strategies on short-term and long-term outcomes in day-of-trial mediation in district courts. Another study analyzed how statements made by judges in the courtroom affect the likelihood that people will accept or decline to use alternative dispute resolution.

The important thing, said Nick White, director of research and evaluation for MACRO, is to constantly evaluate ADR programs, to ask questions and explore alternatives. “I encourage all programs to be curious about what’s working for you and not working for you,” White said.

The program was the first in what will become a series exploring the intersection of courts and alternative dispute resolution, said moderator Merril Hirsh of HirshADR PLLC in Washington, D.C. “Court-based ADR has become a central part of how courts operate in the U.S.,” Hirsh said.

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