This study evaluates five court-annexed civil mediation programs in California - three mandatory programs (Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties) and two voluntary programs (Contra Costa and Sonoma counties) - in five areas: trial rate, time to disposition, litigant satisfaction, litigant costs, and court workload. The major findings of the study were that 58% of unlimited cases and 71% of limited cases settled as a result of mediation; the trial rate was reduced 24 to 30 percent, resulting in substantial savings to both litigants and the court; the number of motions and/or pretrial court events was lower for program cases; there was some positive impact on the time from filing to disposition for mediated cases; and satisfaction of attorneys was higher in program cases than non-program cases.
Description of Study: Evaluation of five pilot court-annexed civil mediation programs in California - three mandatory programs (Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties) and two voluntary programs (Contra Costa and Sonoma Counties), in which mediation was to occur earlier than in programs that had been in place.
Method: Study of cases filed 2000 to 2001. Examined court records to determine percent of cases going to trial. Looked at both time from filing to close and percent of cases that reached disposition within a specified time from filing. Used trial rate and number of pretrial hearings to determine court workload. Asked judges to estimate number of hours per event to determine time and money savings to court. Mailed questionnaires to all attorneys who filed cases during study period regarding their experience with the court and the litigation process; asked attorneys to send forms to parties as well. Also asked parties, attorneys, and insurance adjusters who participated in mediation to fill out questionnaires at the end of the session. Asked attorneys to provide information on the estimated number of hours worked for each case, as well as fees charged to litigants. Also asked them to estimate cost and work hours saved if case settled in mediation.
Comparison Groups: San Diego: cases assigned to civil departments included in the program, and cases assigned to civil departments not included in the program. Los Angeles: cases assigned to civil departments included in the program randomly assigned to mediation and those assigned to civil departments included in the program but randomly assigned to regular litigation, as well as cases assigned to civil department not included in the program. Fresno: cases randomly assigned to mediation or regular litigation. Contra Costa and Sonoma: cases filed before program started, and those filed after its inception, as well as comparison between those cases that stipulated to mediation and those that did not.
Sample Size: 23,792 eligible cases of unlimited jurisdiction, of which 6,320 were mediated; 7,727 eligible cases of limited jurisdiction (under $25,000, excluding small claims), of which 1,570 were mediated
Variables Examined: Trial rate, time to disposition, court workload, litigant costs, litigant and attorney satisfaction
Program Variables: Pilot project began in 2000 in all courts except Los Angeles, which began in June 2001. However, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Contra Costa all had mediation programs in place before the pilots started. Statute enabling establishment of the pilots authorized initial case management conference to be earlier than in other courts (90 days as opposed to 120-150 days), at which ADR options were discussed. In practice, case management conference was 120-150 days post filing in San Diego, 90-150 days post filing in Los Angeles, 140 days post-filing in Contra Costa, and 120 days post filing in Sonoma. There was no conference in Fresno unless the parties wanted to contest referral to mediation. The deadline for completing mediation in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Fresno was 60-90 days after order or stipulation, 240 days from filing for Contra Costa, and as provided in the stipulation in Sonoma.
In mandatory courts, court could order the case to mediation. In the voluntary courts, cases were referred to mediation if parties stipulated to referral. Parties could choose mediators from a roster or any they want. Roster mediators were paid by the court for the first few (three or four, depending on the court) hours of mediation in the mandatory programs. In Contra Costa, the parties paid the mediators, but the first two hours were free. In Sonoma, the parties paid the market rate.
Findings: 58% of unlimited cases and 71% of limited cases settled as a result of mediation. Looking at all cases (comparing all cases in each group, not just those that went to mediation to those that did not), the trial rate was reduced 24 to 30 percent in San Diego and Los Angeles. The number of motions and/or pretrial court events was lower for program cases in San Diego (2.51 total pre-trial hearings v 3.0). In the other courts there were mixed results – more case management conferences offset the lower number of motions and other pre-trial hearings. Potential savings if the pilot were expanded to all eligible cases were estimated to be 479 judge days per year ($1.4 million) in San Diego, 132 judge days per year ($395,000) in Los Angeles, and 3 judge days per year ($9,770) in Sonoma. There was some positive impact on the time from filing to disposition for mediated cases in San Diego (310 days v 329 for unlimited, 247 v 272 for limited), Los Angeles (241 days v 264 for unlimited), and Fresno (348 days v 398 for unlimited), and no significant difference in Contra Costa and Sonoma.
In a comparison of the attorneys’ estimates of litigation costs and attorney hours spent on the case, cost estimates were 60% lower and attorney hours were 43% lower in Contra Costa. In all other pilot counties, there was no significant difference in the estimates. However, if cases settled at mediation, the cost estimates were significantly lower in Contra Costa, San Diego, and Fresno. Attorneys’ estimates of savings (as opposed to estimated costs) for cases settled at mediation ranged from 75% in Los Angeles to 95% in Sonoma.
Satisfaction of attorneys was higher in program cases than non-program cases for court services and the litigation process. There were no significant differences in satisfaction with the outcome except in Contra Costa, where mediated outcomes were viewed more favorably. Attorney satisfaction with the outcome was tied to whether the case settled. In post-mediation questionnaire, both parties and attorneys ranked mediation highly on fairness questions. In both satisfaction and fairness, attorneys had higher rankings than parties. Party satisfaction was correlated with whether: they believed mediation helped improve communication, the cost of mediation was seen as affordable, the mediator treated all parties fairly, and they felt they had a chance to tell their views. Attorney satisfaction was correlated with whether they believed the process to be fair, whether the outcome was seen as fair, that mediation was seen to help the case come to resolution quickly, and that the mediator treated all parties fairly.