JAMS ADR Blog by Chris Poole
A mediation program recently established in Alabama’s Lauderdale County Circuit Court has shown solid success resolving some of the most intractable cases headed for jury trial by using volunteer mediators and the authority of the court to encourage parties to use the alternative dispute resolution process.
Lauderdale Circuit County Judge Gilbert Self said the voluntary mediation program was instituted earlier this year after former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb notified courts across the state that due to budget shortfalls, civil jury trials for the remainder of the year would be suspended.
The volunteer mediation program “gives parties a recourse to mediation in lieu of a trial,” said Judge Self, adding that due to the initial success of the program, “it morphed into a program available to any case in the system, while still giving a priority to those cases set for a jury trial.”
“The program has been very successful given the difficult nature of cases that make it all the way to a jury trial,” he said. Ultimately it’s been “successful because the parties got their day in court, got closure on their dispute and the mediators have done a great job with the parties crafting settlements,” he said.
Another aspect of mediation that the mediators and parties have taken advantage of is the ability to craft more creative settlements, he said, suggesting that “through compromise, the parties can do things I can’t do when settling a case.”
According to Judge Self, the volunteer mediation program has not cleared the court’s docket but has allowed it get “slightly ahead of the game” because so many cases have been resolved using the ADR process. He went on to note that compliance with mediated settlements is high because “parties understand their agreement and have a stake in it due to their participation in crafting it.”
Judge Self noted that former Chief Justice Cobb suggested that other circuit courts could use the program in Lauderdale County as a template if they decide to implement a similar program. He added that a few other circuit courts have expressed interest, adding that “I may make mediation a permanent option due to the success of the program.”
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