What's A "Dispute Resolution Conference"?
Arbitration and mediation were covered in previous articles. But, for those with cases in El Dorado County (civil) Court, there is another form of Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") called: Dispute Resolution Conference. A Dispute Resolution Conference or "DRC" is a form of settlement conference which the court will require in most civil cases. The DRC is usually held fairly early on in the case often before the parties have spent significant sums on attorney's fee and costs and before reaching what some may call "the point of no return". Retired judges or, more often it seems, local attorneys volunteer to act as a DRC judge for cases filed in El Dorado County courts. The court will randomly select a DRC judge for each case and will send out notice to the DRC judge and attorneys involved in the case.
The plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit) will usually have the job of contacting the appointed DRC judge and other attorneys to schedule the DRC. Often the DRC will be held in the DRC judge's office or another attorney's office if space or location is a consideration.
When the DRC is set the parties will appear with their attorneys to meet with the DRC judge. Usually, the attorneys will have prepared and delivered a brief to the DRC judge in advance of the DRC. This allows the DRC judge to review the facts, legal arguments and applicable law in advance of the DRC.
Upon arrival at the DRC (similar to mediation) many DRC judges will have the parties and attorneys initially meet together in one room. The DRC judge may ask the attorneys for a brief opening statement or may have questions of the attorneys to provide answers about issues which are unclear.
After introductions and opening statement, the DRC judge will often separate the parties into rooms with their own attorneys. In other words, each party (and their attorney) will have their own private room separated from the other parties and their attorneys. The DRC judge will then typically caucus or shuttle between these rooms in an effort to seek resolution of the dispute. The DRC judge will strive to get the case settled so that the matter may be dismissed from the court's docket. The DRC judge is not a real judge however, and cannot make orders or judgments and cannot force anyone to take any action (or refrain from action) if they don't voluntarily agree. If the case settles, it should be reduced to writing and signed by the parties. If it doesn't settle, the matter will continue through the litigation process until the case is settled or tried.
The DRC is a very effective tool for resolving disputes in many cases. It can be a better tool than a mandatory settlement conference as the mandatory settlement conference typically does not happen until very close to trial when the parties have spent significant funds, have entrenched themselves in their respective positions or where have reached the proverbial point of no return.
More on dispute resolution next time.