Judge Vicki Hogan called the meeting to order at 9:30 a.m. Those present introduced themselves. It was noted that Ms. Madelyn Botta is replacing Ms. Theresa Doty, who has relocated to California.
The minutes from the June 8, 2001 meeting were approved with no changes.
Judge Hogan summarized the previous meetings for those new to the committee. A main focus has been the committee's mission and deciding what would be a manageable first project - the committee chose to study Mandatory Settlement Conferences in Dissolution Cases.
BJA Best Practices Committee Research Plan
Goal: Determine whether mandatory settlement conferences in domestic relations cases are a best practice.
- Review literature
- Develop a summary of all superior courts' practice in this area.
Summary of local rules.
- Compare case processing time standards across courts and cases
- Compare number of post-decree proceedings (modifications).
- Compare settlement rates between courts with settlement conferences and courts without.
It was determined that #1, 3 and 5 have been completed, #4 should be deleted (there are too many factors involved), and #2 is being worked on.
Judge Hogan suggested contacting courts with and without mandatory settlement conferences (MSCs), asking for their input as to which seems to work best. Judge Hogan continued that some courts assign the MSC and trial date at filing or when the case is at issue while others do not assign the trial date until the conclusion of the MSC. It might be worthwhile to look at this element also.
Ms. McBride asked the committee for clarification. If this committee determines that it is more effective to have (or mandate) MSCs, will the committee encourage other courts to implement them? The answer is that the committee will offer their findings to the courts and it is up to them if they will implement or not.
Judge Donohue remarked that sometimes a mandatory settlement date may not be appropriate (i.e., if it is a set 60-days from hearing). The parties may not be ready for it at that time, which would put them back to square one (time wise).
Ms. Botta observed that MSCs may not necessarily resolve more cases, but having set timelines does help move them through the system. Also, with judges and pro tems handling the MSCs, trial time can sometimes be decreased as questions have been answered earlier and parties are more prepared. Ms. Botta continued that training for judges and pro tems on MSCs is extremely valuable.
Justice Ireland suggested looking at the actual trial time, not just if the case has been resolved. She continued, in King County there are many pro ses, a settlement conference helps to focus the parties, a judicial office performing somewhat of a "gatekeeper" function.
Ms. Pettus responded that OAC will look at the number of days for trials in the counties, when courts hold MSCs in relation to the trial dates, and ask court administrators for their input on MSCs. Counties will also be looked at to determine if there are Courthouse Facilitators that perform the gatekeeper function.
Judge Buzzard suggested looking at the cost to parties that have settlement conferences. He also indicated that in the smaller counties the local Bar may know if MSCs would be beneficial.
Judge Hogan reminded the committee that currently we are looking at best practices for domestic relations cases - we are not rule generating - we're looking for more prompt resolutions. Our role is to be able to offer to courts suggested best practice solutions for the counties. Every county has their own individual makeup and challenges, it will be up to them to decide to implement the committee's suggestions. As an example, the committee may find that it would be beneficial for each county to have Courthouse Facilitators, having data to back up that suggestion would prove useful if funding needed to be sought for these facilitators.
Justice Ireland suggested renaming the work plan-Best Practices for Prompt Resolution of Dissolution Cases.
Ms. Pettus said it is expected that a preliminary report will be available to the committee at the November meeting.
The following questions will be added to the list of questions posed to the courts to gather information regarding court process and procedures in dissolution cases.
Does the court have a Courthouse Facilitators? How many do you have? How is the position(s) funded?
- If children are involved, is there mandatory mediation?
- Is there settlement conference/mediation training for judicial officers?
- What are your (courts') suggestions?
- Is there a Family Law Department or Court?
The committee also suggested the following other data be collected and analyzed.
- Time from settlement conference date to trial date
- Number of days for trials
- Number of settlement conferences per case
- Number of motions per case
- Trial rate (in addition to settlement rate)
At the next meeting, the committee will discuss the next topic the committee will pursue.
The next meeting is scheduled for Friday, November 9, 2001. It will be at Two Union Square in Seattle, 9:30 a.m., in the Boardroom on the 54th Floor. Please note the floor and room change.