Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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The news is worse than expected. I had been thinking of the impact of court funding cutbacks here in Los Angeles primarily in terms of how cutbacks and delays in courtroom services would affect the demand for ADR. That was the focus of the program I moderated at the SCMA conference last month, where we also touched on the possibility of cutbacks to the ADR program itself, but did not anticipate its complete elimination. This week I learned that the entire LA Superior Court ADR program, one of the largest in the nation, is indeed in jeopardy.  A recent message from the chief judge announced that the court
anticipates elimination of all non-mandatory elements of the court’s ADR
programs next year. At a meeting of the court’s ADR committee today, we
were told to anticipate reduction or elimination of all services by the
ADR program as of June 30, 2013. Worst case, the court staff would no longer be administering any kind of ADR
program using outside mediators, but would still retain the judicial settlement officers the court provides.
Needless to say this was not a cheerful meeting.

The most positive way of spinning this news would be to say that it
is still business as usual for court-referred ADR for the next six
months, but after that the program will be phased out in part or totally
eliminated. So if you hear people say that court ADR has been
eliminated, rest assured that it has not . . . yet.

If all court funding for ADR is eliminated in June, that would also
mean the court would no longer receive grant funding for ADR
administration, but other agencies would potentially be eligible for
that funding. It is hard to see, however, how any other agency, such as
the LA County Bar Association (which is a possibility), would have the
capacity to meet the terms of the grant. It requires a lot of personnel
to administer.

Obviously this is a major disaster for the court, as are a lot of
the other cutbacks, and it presents a huge challenge for people
interested in doing mediation who were able to gain experience from being assigned pro bono
cases by the courts. Nevertheless, the prospect of destroying the public system represents an opportunity for private mediators, as well as for organizations such as the Southern California Mediation Association, to fill the void.

Consumers of mediation services, and even mediators, don’t always appreciate just how much work goes into court administration of these programs, and how much they cost. Court administrators have to enforce the eligibility requirements for membership on the panels, handle intake of cases for mediation and assignment to mediators, follow up to make sure mediations have been completed, and handle complaints. Any private organizations hoping to take over these responsibilities will have to re-invent an elaborate machinery the court has painstakingly built up over many years.

Still from Monty Python and the Holy Grail