Alternative Dispute Resolution
The Circuit Court for Baltimore City has three alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs for the civil non-domestic docket: Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE), Mediation, and Pre-Trial Settlement Conferences. Many of the court’s cases are settled through one of the ADR processes described below. The parties and the courts save time and money when cases settle before trial. In addition, parties in ADR retain more control over the outcome as opposed to trial where a judge or jury will decide the final result.
EARLY NEUTRAL EVALUATION (ENE)
The goals of ENE:
· to provide a non-binding assessment of the merits of a case by a senior judge;
· to enhance direct communication between parties about their claims and supporting evidence;
· to provide a “reality check” for parties and counsel;
· to clarify central issues in the dispute;
· to assist in discovery or facilitate the informal exchange of information; and
· to facilitate settlement negotiations between the parties.
ENE is a confidential, flexible process in which a senior (retired) judge evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and may suggest a settlement range. Your interaction with the judge, along with his/her feedback about your case, can occur in private caucus or in the presence of the opposing party or insurance representative. With the judge’s assistance, you choose whether to engage in settlement negotiations. ENE is an attractive option for parties who want to avoid extended discovery and save time and money.
Mediation is an informal, confidential process in which a neutral person (a mediator) assists parties in a dispute by encouraging communication, allowing the opportunity for both sides to be heard, identifying each person’s needs, and, if possible, helping them reach an agreement that satisfies everyone’s needs. The mediator will help the parties and their lawyers explore the relevant law and evidence as well as the parties’ underlying interests and concerns. Mediators do not give legal advice, render judgments, or force any participant to reach an agreement. Mediation is often very helpful in cases in which the parties have difficulty communicating productively with one another.
After the parties file a lawsuit, the court may order the parties to mediation. The court will appoint a mediator from the court’s roster of mediators who are qualified under Title 17 of the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure for alternative dispute resolution. The mediation order will provide additional instructions to the parties and their lawyers to schedule the mediation session with the court-appointed mediator, what steps must be taken if the parties wish to opt out of the order within a certain timeframe, or substitute a different mediator. Typical cases that are referred to mediation include neighbor-to-neighbor disputes, business partnership dissolutions, contract disagreements, employment disputes, and real property matters.
In accordance with MD Rule 17-208, parties pay for court-ordered mediation at a reduced hourly rate set by the court. The current rate is $200 per hour. Mediation sessions are scheduled for a minimum of two (2) hours and may continue for so long as the parties and the mediator find it productive.
If the parties select their own mediator (including a mediator who may be on the court’s roster), the parties pay the mediator’s private rate. The cost of the mediation is shared by the parties on a pro-rata basis unless the parties agree otherwise. If the parties want a mediator other than the one assigned by the court, a substitution may be requested. Please see MD Rule 17-202 for the process of substituting a court-appointed mediator. Mediation sessions are usually held at the offices of the mediator but may be conducted wherever the parties agree (offices, libraries, shared conference space, community centers, etc.).
PRE-TRIAL SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE
Settlement conferences are typically scheduled approximately thirty (30) days before trial and are conducted REMOTELY. The court requires all trial counsel, their clients, and insurance representatives to attend the settlement conference. Settlement conferences are usually the last structured opportunity provided by the court for parties to resolve their disputes short of trial.
A settlement conference provides the parties the opportunity to discuss their issues and legal positions before an impartial senior judge or volunteer attorney in an attempt to resolve the dispute by agreement or by means other than trial. Some settlement conference neutrals use mediation techniques to improve communication among the parties, discuss barriers to settlement, and propose settlement terms for consideration by the parties and their lawyers. Settlement conference neutrals may express their views about the merits of the case or the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ legal positions. Usually, settlement conference neutrals meet with one side at a time, in private, and some neutrals may rely on meetings with attorneys. A settlement conference may include neutral case evaluation and neutral fact-finding, and the neutral may recommend the terms of an agreement. (See Rule 17-102(l)).
IF YOUR CASE SETTLES BEFORE THE PRE-TRIAL SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE:
Parties are required to attend a scheduled pre-trial settlement conference unless: (1) a Settlement Order, fully executed by all attorneys and all parties in the case (and in all of their capacities) OR a Stipulation of Full Dismissal (see Md. Rule 2-506) is filed with the Clerk’s Office; (2) all outstanding court costs are paid; and (3) a date stamped copy of the Settlement Order or Stipulation of Dismissal is faxed or hand-delivered to the Civil Assignment Office ((410) 333-8654) before the scheduled settlement conference.
CIVIL ADR CANNOT REMOVE CASES FROM THE TRIAL DOCKET.
REQUEST FOR TELEPHONIC APPEARANCE AT PRE-TRIAL SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE
All requests to excuse personal attendance must be made by written motion filed with the Clerk’s Office in accordance with Maryland Rules of Court.
Motions to excuse personal appearance should state whether the other side consents or objects to the request to appear by telephone. Motions shall be filed not later than twenty-one (21) days before the conference. Date-stamped courtesy copies may be submitted to Civil ADR (Room 248, Courthouse East, fax number (410) 396-7378). A judge will rule on the motion.
If a motion to appear by telephone is approved, that approval applies only for the date on which the pretrial conference is scheduled at the time of the request. If the pretrial conference is rescheduled, a separate motion is required.
BEST PRACTICES FOR PRE-TRIAL SETTLEMENT CONFERENCES
Maryland Rule 2-504.2 requires that pre-trial settlement conference statements be filed with the Clerk’s Office no later than five (5) days before the conference. Please provide date-stamped courtesy copies by fax ((410) 396-7378) or email (Brian.Finnell@mdcourts.gov) to the Civil ADR Program Office and bring an extra copy to the conference. Be prepared for settlement discussions.
Program Director – Brian Finnell
Deputy Director – Luke Little
Cummings Courthouse, Room 248
111 N. Calvert Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Tel. (410) 396-4716
Tel. (410) 396-7374
Fax. (410) 396-7378
- Civil Mediation Instructions
- Civil Mediation Instructions for Medical Malpractice Cases
- Confidential Mediation Conference Statement
- Notice of Selection of ADR Provider by Stipulation In Health Care Malpractice Claims