Monday, April 23, 2012

Appellate Mediation Frustration

Florida led the way in the establishment of alternative dispute resolution procedures to accommodate resolution without trials or the use of the judiciary. In the late 1980s, Florida passed comprehensive court-annexed mediation statutes and the past quarter century has seen enormous growth in the use of mediation as a practical, efficient alternative to traditional litigation for conflict resolution. In addition to the retention of self-determination and capability for creative settlements-- not to mention decreased costs-- courts celebrate reduced dockets, as well as increased levels of satisfaction. As such, appellate courts got into the game, initially with the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and then a pilot program by Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal (DCA) over a decade ago. There was also a program at the First DCA which was dismantled for budgetary reasons and other programs that have since gone. However, recent Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure (found beginning at 9.700) now provide the parties with the option to mediate if not already referred to mediation by the appellate court. These procedures account for tolling and other deadlines and deal with appearance and authority of parties at mediation. Today, at the Orange County Bar Association, we had the privilege of listening to Judge Thomas Sculco, Barbara Eagan and Stacy Ford for a CME on the frustration the process can bring about. Though the success rates are still around 35% for cases settling through mediation after a notice of appeal is filed, there are more challenges to the process given the posture post-trial than in cases that have not yet tried. Appellees are difficult to motivate, but there are some tools appellate mediators can use to move the parties' positions beyond discussions involving splits of authority and the proverbial "careful what you wish for" new trial. A hallmark to successful appellate mediation can be as simple as the ability of the parties to avoid precedent and craft a solution to the conflict that is built around their unique interests and needs. With the advent of Certification of Appellate Mediators by the Supreme Court of Florida, more mediation in the DCAs should be taking place. However, it is up to practitioners and dispute resolvers to educate the judiciary and promote the process beyond courts that have traditionally recognized its benefits.