Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Programs
Going to court, commonly called litigation, may decide the dispute, but the process can be time consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining. Fees may escalate well beyond the original estimate, and the time it takes to reach a decision in our busy courts can be months or even years. Therefore, exploring options other than litigation can be a worthwhile pursuit.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the term used to describe all the other options available for settling a dispute, which once was required to be settled in court. ADR processes such as arbitration, mediation, and settlement conferences are less formal than court proceedings and provide opportunities for litigants to reach an agreement using a problem-solving approach rather than the more adversarial approach of litigation.
For parties to the dispute, these options:
- are highly cost effective;
- take less time to resolve;
- foster future positive relationships;
- are rated as highly satisfactory;
- provide more control over the outcome.
For attorneys, benefits in addition to those mentioned above include:
- shorter time for disposition;
- quicker results for clients;
- ability to represent or advise more clients;
- fewer fee disputes;
- greater client satisfaction.
ADR Packet Information
Pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 3.221 - external link, in all general civil cases, the plaintiff must serve a copy of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) information package on each defendant together with the complaint. The ADR information package includes: ADR Information Sheet (CV\E-100) and Stipulation and Order to Mediation (CV\E-MED-179). A Stipulation to Arbitration may be filed on pleading.
The forms noted above are also available at the time of filing by requesting a Civil ADR Packet.
Additional information that is helpful after initiating a case:
- Civil Departments Assignment Information
- Civil Case Management (CV\E-141)
- Tentative Ruling Information (CV\E-190)
What are My Options?
In arbitration, each side in the dispute presents its case, including evidence, to a neutral third party called an arbitrator, rather than to a judge. The arbitrator, who is an attorney, issues an award based on the evidence just as a judge would, within a time frame set by the Court. Although evidence is presented, arbitration is a less formal process than litigation.
Arbitration may be binding or non-binding depending on what the parties agree to before beginning the process. Non-binding arbitration means that the participants in the case are not required to accept the arbitrator's award and they may request a trial de novo which returns the case to the Court's calendar as if arbitration had not occurred.
It is important for parties to understand that, in agreeing to binding arbitration or by not requesting a trial de novo, they are waiving their right to a trial and are accepting the arbitrator's award as a final decision.
A case referred to arbitration may be withdrawn from the process prior to the arbitration session, but only by Court order.
In mediation, a neutral third party called a mediator helps participants in the dispute create their own resolution. Unlike an arbitrator, the mediator makes no decision or findings about the facts of the case and makes no award. Rather, the mediator helps facilitate a discussion in which the parties reach a mutually agreed upon settlement. Therefore, mediation allows for more creative resolutions to disputes than other ADR processes.
To accomplish this, mediators foster communication among the parties to:
- clarify issues, interests, and needs;
- explore the merits of each party's positions;
- identify possible options for resolution.
One of the primary goals of mediation is enhancing the future relationship of the parties involved in the dispute, so the process is less adversarial and formal than either litigation or arbitration. For example, the rules of evidence and formal court procedures do not apply to mediation.
Sometimes mediation does not result in an agreement or resolution. In these cases, the parties have the right to return to court for a litigated decision. If the case returns to court, the mediator cannot be called to testify or produce notes or records of the mediation, as the rules of evidence are not the same for mediation as they are for litigation.
Survey results of participants in mediation consistently demonstrate a high satisfaction rate with both the results of the mediation and with the process itself. Because the resolution is determined by the parties and is not imposed on them, settlements achieved in mediation are upheld easily by the parties, and the agreements reached help to foster future positive relationships.
- Settlement Conferences
In general, if the settlement conference is mandatory, that is, ordered by the judge, the parties to the dispute and their attorneys will meet with the judge who conducts a conference aimed at negotiating an agreement to settle the dispute rather than going through the formal trial process.
The Court also offers voluntary settlement conferences, conducted by settlement officers who are either retired judges or highly experienced ADR providers with substantial litigation experience. Like the other ADR processes, the voluntary settlement conference must be held within a time frame set by the Court.
Unlike arbitration, the settlement conference does not make a decision or an award in the case. Instead, the settlement officer assists the parties in negotiating their own settlement, but may evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
For more details on the Court's ADR Program, Arbitration and Mediation, refer to Chapter 2 - Part Five of the Local Rules. The Court's Local Rules are available online and hard copies are available for purchase for $10.00 at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, located at 720 9th Street, Room 102.