April 10, 2020
COVID-19 has dramatically altered our way of life both socially and professionally. Like many other industries, the legal system has been forced to adapt to the “new normal.” While many court proceedings have been postponed, such as in-person hearings and jury trials, other court services have continued. One issue that many clients and attorneys have found themselves facing is the current status of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”). How are parties to address a previously scheduled settlement conference before a court-appointed Judge Pro Tempore (“JPT”) or a private mediator?
I am a JPT in Maricopa County, and I hold settlement conferences to assist parties in settling their pending lawsuits. The Alternative Dispute Resolution program for the Maricopa County Superior Court has issued a directive that JPTs may continue to hold settlement conferences either telephonically or through video conference. In fact, in February 2020, the ADR program hosted a Continuing Legal Education seminar for JPTs encouraging JPTs to hold settlement conferences via video conference. I recently conducted a telephonic settlement conference due to the concerns surrounding COVID-19. I found the process to be efficient and effective, and we settled the case in less than three hours. I wanted to share my observations from my experience and offer recommendations on how clients and attorneys can best approach telephonic or video settlement conferences.
At the outset, the parties need to be prepared to modify the methodical approach of a traditional, in-person, settlement conference to the faster-paced telephonic/video settlement conference. The telephonic/video settlement conference tends to naturally move at a swift pace. Before the conference, it is critical to provide the JPT with streamlined, efficient information so the JPT can be prepared to jump-start the conference from the beginning. The settlement conference memorandum, setting forth your position to the JPT, is of utmost importance. It must be concise and include only the essential exhibits. Remember the parties and the JPT are at best sharing a screen – not a conference room where multiple exhibits can be spread out and reviewed simultaneously. The negotiations also move at a much quicker pace. Clients and their attorneys need to be prepared to adjust their strategy and to quickly make and respond to settlement offers to create and sustain the momentum that so often leads to resolution of their dispute.
During this difficult time where many aspects of our legal system have been slowed or entirely brought to halt, it is important for clients and attorneys to know they continue to have the opportunity to participate in ADR and obtain final resolution of their disputes.
 If you have a scheduled mediation with a private mediator, contact the mediator to discuss their particular office procedures. Some private mediators are offering to conduct mediations by video conference to continue to allow litigants the opportunity to resolve their cases.
About the Author: Damien Meyer focuses his practice on commercial litigation, assisting clients in their business matters and contractual disputes. He counsels clients in several different industries including real estate, construction and banking. His goal is to proactively guide businesses and individuals in the resolution of disputes to achieve and protect their business objectives and interests. Damien also serves as a Maricopa County Judge Pro Tempore. firstname.lastname@example.org | 602.222.4948
Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice and is only for general, non-specific informational purposes. It is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. If you have a legal matter, the specific facts that apply to you may require legal knowledge not addressed by this article. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer.