The State Bar of Wisconsin Dispute Resolution Section and the Wisconsin Supreme Court wanted to know if and how mediation is being used in Wisconsin state courts in order to identify the courts’ needs and determine the best way to address them. To do this, they worked with Resolution Systems Institute to devise a survey of sitting circuit court judges that asks about the use of mediation in their county, as well as their views on the process. The questions focused on five areas:
- The availability of mediation in each county
- Whether there is a need for mediation in individual counties
- What supports and limits the use of mediation in each county
- Judicial referral of cases to mediation and to specific mediators
- The judges’ views on the benefits and suitability of mediation
In order to limit the length of the survey, the questions were limited to four case types for which it is believed that mediation may be needed. These are personal injury, contracts/business, family financial (e.g., division of property and child support in dissolution cases) and small claims.
The results of the survey indicated that:
- Mediation in Wisconsin is widely available, but not necessarily widely accessible or widely used
- Mediation is needed most for family financial cases
- The judges see the obstacles to mediation to be structural – primarily the lack of funding and the cost to litigants
- Referrals were highest for personal injury cases, and to attorney-mediators
- Most judges have a positive perspective on mediation
The survey was sent to all 246 judges sitting judges, of whom 134 completed it. These 134 represented at least 55 counties throughout the state.