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Use of Mediation and Arbitration in Small Claims Disputes

NCJ Number
W DeJong; G A Goolkasian; D McGillis
Date Published
182 pages
Based on an extensive literature review and onsite study of mediation programs in Maine, Florida, Georgia, and California and of two arbitration programs in New York, this report gives judges, court administrators, and other justice policymakers practical information and recommendations on developing such programs.
Mediation and arbitration are being explored as an alternative to regular trial to revitalize overburdened and increasingly impersonal small claims courts. Researchers found that, when properly implemented, mediation and arbitration programs can increase case processing efficiency, reduce court costs, and improve both the quality of justice and the collection of judgments. While most jurisdictions can establish mediation/arbitration programs without new legislation, support from the judiciary and local bar is crucial. For small claims applications, court-sponsored programs (as opposed to independent efforts) offer several advantages: lower costs, greater convenience to litigants, opportunity for judicial oversight and immediate judicial review of settlements, and increased funding stability for the program. Major study recommendations include using attorneys as hearing officers for arbitration programs, but seeking mediators of varied backgrounds; experimenting with evening and weekend sessions; offering mediation and arbitration in succession; and making all awards and settlements orders of the court. The report describes program development, staff, budget, operations, and caseload for each of the six programs studied. Survey instrument, model legislation, and program forms are appended; chapter notes, data tables, and figures are provided.