Dispute Resolution Procedures
The goal of a settlement conference is to assist the parties in negotiating a settlement of all or part of the dispute.
A judge helps the parties negotiate. Some settlement judges also use mediation techniques to improve communication among the parties, explore barriers to settlement, and help develop resolution options. Settlement judges might express views about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ legal positions. Often, settlement judges meet with one side at a time, and some settlement judges rely primarily on meetings with the attorneys.
Preserving the Right to Trial:
The settlement judge does not impose settlment on the parties. The parties may agree to a binding settlement. If no settlement is reached, the case remains on the trial track. The parties’ rights to obtain information and to have court hearings on certain matters are all preserved.
A judge conducts the settlement conference. Some judges have already issued orders concerning settlement conferences, including requirements for written documents and attendance. Questions about these issues should be directed to the staff of the assigned judge.
Settlement judges’ orders often require the parties to attend a settlement conference or at least be available by telephone. Attorneys attending the conference without their clients are not only required to be thoroughly familiar with the case, but must have the authority to negotiate a settlement.
Confidentiality is maintained at the conference in order to foster frank, open discussions.
A voluntary settlement conference may be requested at any time. Mandatory conferences are set by the court. The timing depends on the judge’s schedule.
Written settlement conference letters are submitted directly to the settlement judge. These are confidential and are not filed with the court.
A civil case may be particularly appropriate for a settlement conference when:
- a client or attorney prefers to appear before a judge rather than a mediator
- issues of procedural law are especially important
- a party is not represented by an attorney
There is no charge to parties.