March 23, 2013

“Budget Woes Claim ADR Program in Los Angeles”

By Michael Moffitt

Article by that title in the National Law Journal about a week ago.  Available here.  Excerpted below.

MM

Budget woes claim ADR program in Los Angeles

By Amanda Bronstad  

The National Law Journal

March 13, 2013

To address an “extreme budget shortfall,” Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court plans to close its alternative dispute resolution program on June 18 after 20 years in operation. 

The ADR program—the largest in the country—is the latest victim of budget cuts that have ravaged California’s judicial system. Its absence will especially punish “the average citizen who finds himself in a lawsuit,” including small business owners, victims of automobile accidents or litigants with disputes over employment issues, real property or escrow problems, said Richard Burdge, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Most such cases are worth $150,000 or less. 

The ADR program helped litigants resolve their cases early before an arbitrator or mediator and avoid spending more money on going to trial, he said. 

”The program facilitates a lot of early settlement negotiations that otherwise might not happen,” said Burdge, of The Burdge Law Firm in downtown Los Angeles, who handles complex civil litigation for businesses. “Most will still settle and not go to trial, but there will be a lot more cases clogging the system, slowing things down. With all the other changes, the system is already clogged up and slowing down.” 

Of the 10,000 cases referred through the ADR program during 2012, 70 percent of litigants sought free services rather than pay for their own mediator or arbitrator, he said. But as the program expanded, he said, personnel costs increased. About 60 percent of the cost comes out of the court’s budget. 

Burdge predicted that, without the program, more litigants will pay for mediators or arbitrators, who charge between $300 per hour to $10,000 per day. Others will be forced to go to trial. 

The Los Angeles Superior Court is reorganizing as part of a court consolidation plan taking effect through June.

Under a plan announced on March 7, the program has stopped accepting referrals for arbitrations, mediations, neutral evaluations and voluntary settlement conferences from civil, family and probate courtrooms. 

By April 30, the ADR program will close offices in courthouses across all areas of Los Angeles: suburban Lancaster; affluent Beverly Hills; lower-income Compton, Inglewood, El Monte and Norwalk; and Long Beach and San Pedro. It will stop providing mediators for small claims, unlawful detainer and civil harassment cases. 

As of May 1, ADR will discontinue its daily family law settlement conferences, including Spanish-language ones, at its downtown courthouse, and by May 31 will close offices in suburban Chatsworth, Glendale, Pasadena and Van Nuys, and in Santa Monica and Torrance. 

California’s judicial system comprises 58 county trial courts, with the Los Angeles Superior Court the largest.

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Comments

  • Matt Fronda says:

    This article presents an interesting view of ADR budgetary concerns. There seems to be a debate surrounding the front-end cost of ADR vs. the back-end cost of hearings and trials. While the state might save money on initially by cutting-back the program, it’s true affect is hidden in the accounting and will not be apparent for some time. Admittedly, I do not know enough about ADR financial impact to say for sure which outweighs which. But it would seem to me that the budgetary committee may soon reverse course when congestion rises.

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