Judiciary Launches Mediation Program in Appellate Court
(ANNAPOLIS, Md. — March 29, 2010) The Court of Special Appeals has launched a pilot program of court-ordered mediation. Beginning this month, people who appeal their civil cases to Maryland’s second highest court may ask for or be ordered to mediation before pursuing further litigation. Participants will not be charged a fee for the mediation service in the pilot program.
Mediation, provided for more than a decade in Maryland’s trial courts, will now be part of the process for many civil cases heard at the appellate level. The pilot program, which officially began on February 17 upon adoption of an administrative order by the Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals, was created to reduce the cost and time for appeals, improve outcomes for litigants, prevent multiple appeals in the same case, and ease the Court of Special Appeals’ heavy caseload.
“The experience of our own trial courts and civil appellate mediation programs in other states suggests that this new program offers the potential to resolve cases before the parties incur the expense and burden of preparing an appeal,” said Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser of the Court of Special Appeals. “Mediation provides an opportunity for litigants to devise solutions of their own accord. Because parties in mediation determine the future of their own controversy, mediated agreements have shown to be more sustainable than court-mandated resolutions. Overall, we hope that this program will benefit all Marylanders by improving outcomes, increasing the Court’s efficiency, reducing the time and cost involved in lengthy appeals and, in general, improving access to justice.”
Since parties will not be required to submit briefs or order transcripts until the mediation is completed, the savings could be substantial if settlements are reached. Cases resolved prior to a hearing save additional public resources by decreasing the Judiciary’s work load.
Chief Judge Krauser expects the mediation program will eventually lead to a substantial reduction in the civil cases heard by the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals hears approximately 1,300 civil appeals each year, of which nearly half are viewed as possible cases for mediation. Approximately 230 domestic cases are appealed annually, one in three involving children. Other case types that will be carefully considered for mediation include contract, torts, medical malpractice, property conflicts, foreclosures, trust and estates, and business disputes.
The mediation program is woven into the Court’s existing prehearing conference program, explained Robert J. Rhudy, director of mediation. Rhudy was chosen by Chief Judge Krauser to create and manage the pilot program. Rhudy was previously executive director of Maryland Legal Services Corporation, president and executive director of Senior Mediation and Decision-Making, Inc., and an attorney and mediator in private practice. Rhudy served on the Maryland Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission in 1998 and the advisory committee to the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) from 1999 to 2004.
“It is not too late for mediation at the appellate level,” Rhudy said. “By the time people have reached the appeals level, they have already had their ‘day in court,’ and may see that mediation is an attractive alternative to a lengthy and costly appellate battle. If no settlement is reached, the parties may proceed with their appeal.”
Mala Malhotra-Ortiz was recently hired as assistant director of the pilot program. Also an attorney and mediator, Malhotra-Ortiz was previously a lawyer with the federal government, in private practice, and most recently a professor in the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Family Mediation Clinic.
Most cases will be co-mediated by retired judges and the director or assistant director of mediation. The judge mediators include 17 retired Circuit Court judges and two retired Court of Appeals judges. The retired judges have prior mediation experience and recently participated in additional training on appellate mediation.
The pilot appellate mediation program is funded by a grant from MACRO. The pilot program will be evaluated within two years of its creation for effectiveness and to determine whether it should be continued.
For more information about the Court of Special Appeals Civil Mediation Pilot Program, please contact Robert J. Rhudy, director of mediation, Court of Special Appeals, 410-260-3716, or email@example.com. # # #
Media: For more information, please contact the Office of Communications and Public Affairs,410-260-1488.