By Savannah Billingham-Hemminger
An official of the New York state court system introduced new efforts on boosting the use of alternative dispute resolution, and especially mediation, at a regular gathering of practitioners last week.
Lisa Denig, Special Counsel for ADR Initiatives for the NY State Office of Court Administration, spoke about the moves, characterized by what the state is calling “presumptive ADR,” at the monthly New York City John Jay College of Criminal Justice ADR Breakfast on July 11.
In attendance were attorneys, neutrals, and representatives of organizations who are interested in how the ADR steps, part of New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s Excellence Initiative, would affect their practices. The effort will push litigants to using ADR in an effort to expedite and improve the quality of outcomes in the state court system.
Full details on the presumptive ADR and mediation efforts are in the new issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, at “‘Presumptive Mediation’: New York Moves to Improve Its Court ADR Game,” 37 Alternatives 107 (available at http://bit.ly/2GbCWdK).
Denig opened the briefing with background on the effort. Earlier this year, Chief Judge DiFiore introduced the idea as a way to reduce court backlogs. While many pilot programs had already been conducted, the move is designed to ensure full participation and cement ADR as an option—as well as a focus—in all state courts.
While many perceive the efforts as a mediation-based program, it is officially termed “Presumptive ADR” because not every court will focus on mediation. Courts in the state’s 13 judicial districts are being given freedom to adopt programs in accordance with local demand. The districts are making ADR plans based upon their typical cases, and matching that with the ADR methods that work best for these cases.
The plans, which are being drafted by the administrative judge of each judicial district, are due to be submitted by Sept. 1. Denig said that the hope is that implementation will roll out by the end of the year. There are certain types of civil cases that are not conducive to ADR methods, but she assured the audience that presumptions will not change, but rather, the ADR approach will be adjusted.
The culture shift in New York state courts’ approach to cases has already brought up some challenges. Denig noted the biggest issues to be addressed included language diversity of neutrals; power imbalances in mediation; opt-out provisions for certain cases, and neutrals’ compensation.
She stated that these challenges are being worked out this summer. The administrative judges are looking at other states as models in addressing these issues, formulating their plans and developing their local rules. There will be statewide and local rules for the initiative, and they are being developed on parallel tracks.
The breakfast audience brought up many scenarios that members currently face in their ADR practices. The biggest concern—not surprising in a gathering that is often heavily attended by neutrals–is the state’s hiring process, requirements, and neutral compensation.
The answer to the questions was: Stay tuned. Lisa Denig listened to the concerns, and assured the group that once the plans roll out in September, the presumptive ADR path will be much clearer.
The New York state court system’s May 14 announcement on the presumptive ADR moves is available at http://bit.ly/32lhjkq.
The author, a Summer 2019 CPR Intern, is a law student at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif.