Setting Precedent in Marin
All Civil lawsuits referred to mediation or arbitration
Republished from California Lawyer, December, 1992
In an unprecedented effort to reduce court congestion, parties to every civil lawsuit now filed in Marin County are told about alternative dispute resolution and encouraged to use it.
The Marin program is the first of its kind in California and one of only a handful nationwide. Its backers believe it will serve as a model for courts in other counties and states. Since the program started only five months ago, it’s still too early to determine its success, but Steve Rosenberg, the Marin County Bar Association’s ADR committee chair believes most of the cases which have gone to mediation since July 1 have been settled. He believes the ADR referral mandate ultimately will resolve as many as half of all Superior Court civil cases within four months after they are filed. Once a case goes to ADR, he thinks, there’s about an 80 percent chance of successful resolution.
Rosenberg and a group of colleagues spent three years developing the ADR program, with the backing of the county’s superior court bench and with early assistance from the State Bar’s Office of Legal Services.
“We initially envisioned a much smaller program, which would refer every third or fourth case to a panel with specific training,” he explained.
But with the prospect of “fast-track” requirements looming, says Rosenberg, “mediation/arbitration was seen as the savior for compliance with fast track.” The judges, he said, were extremely receptive to the idea and have been among its strongest advocates. Under the new program, attorneys for parties in civil cases are instructed to review with their clients the forms of ADR available in Marin: there are three 75-member panels of mediators, arbitrators and neutral evaluators. If the dispute is not resolved within 140 days, the parties are required to appear at an ADR assessment conference with a judge, who tries to determine if the case is appropriate for ADR. With the exception of binding arbitration, any party can proceed with a lawsuit if unsatisfied with the process.
Rosenberg, who has given up his Mill Valley family law/personal injury practice to become a mediator, believes both the plaintiff and defense bars need to be educated about the benefits of ADR. “We need to talk about ADR as another weapon, another tool you need to give effective representation to your client,” he says. “It’s a competitive market out there; you have to be sensitive to it.”