Best Practices Committee
January 18, 2002
Judge Vickie Hogan called the meeting to order at 9:35 a.m. Those present introduced themselves.
Mandatory Settlement Conferences
Judge Hogan asked everyone to take a moment to review Judge Castleberry's letter regarding Mandatory Settlement Conferences (MSC).
As background, Judge McKeeman offered the following. Approximately four years ago, Snohomish County commissioned a study by an independent researcher to look at the courts' caseload, specifically looking at domestic relations cases. It was determined that a small percentage of the litigants took up the most time. As a result, the cases viewed as being more involved were addressed quickly in order to work them through the system faster - MSCs were rejected.
Judge Hogan stated she had heard that some of the rural courts were very concerned that settlement conferences may become mandatory. Resources for these courts are limited, often there may only be one judge who might have a difficult time fitting in the added responsibilities or finding a judge to hear the trial if he or she heard the settlement conference.
Judge Hogan reminded those present that this is not a rule-generating committee; the mission is to recommend ways for courts to improve the administration of justice for Washington citizens.
Review of Report
The committee reviewed Ms. Pettus' report on "Best Practices for the Prompt Resolution of Dissolution Cases." After some discussion, the committee agreed that the literature does not support MSC, the data is inconclusive, and there are inherent problems with the data.
A middle ground approach was suggested - don't make settlement conferences mandatory, but do make available the best practices of those that currently have mandatory settlement conferences.
Judge Fritzler suggested that counties provide, on an optional basis, alternative dispute resolution when needed. He also commented that counties are going through a lot of changes right now and standards needed to be encouraged.
The committee's consensus was that settlement conferences should be optional for counties. Ms. Pettus, with Ms. Williams' assistance, will draft information of what does and doesn't appear to work in different counties. This information will then be disseminated to the counties and will be available on the court's website.
The list of potential project areas was discussed. It was agreed to drop Specialized Courts off the list; there is already a committee working on Jury Management; and it was noted that Access to Justice is working on Facilitators. Following are the suggestions of additions to the potential project areas.
Educating the Community (on the legal system)
Evaluate what courts do in their evaluation process when they try new practices
Enforcing Court Orders
The committee decided to look into Universal Cashiering - it's timely, Senator Kline is endorsing a bill on this subject.
The National Center for State Courts has produced information on court-collected funds, the more important information will be sent to members of the committee. Before the committee goes forward with this project, we need to see what other states are doing.
The next meeting is scheduled for Friday, March 29, 2002 at 9:30 a.m. The meeting will again be held in Tacoma at the Court of Appeals.
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