Court-Connected Online Dispute Resolution Video: Resources Saved, Justice Served

Learn more about court-connected online dispute resolution via a one-hour video, an archive of a webinar held January 18, 2018. The video covers the Franklin County Municipal Court’s use of Matterhorn online dispute resolution for small claims cases.

This video, entitled Resources Saved, Justice Served, features

  • Alex Sanchez, Manager of Small Claims and Dispute Resolution at the Franklin County Municipal Court and
  • MJ Cartwright, CEO of online dispute resolution platform provider Matterhorn by Court Innovations.

Giuseppe Leone of VirtualMediationLab moderated the event.

View the Online Dispute Resolution Video 

Court-Connected Online Dispute Resolution Video Description

Sanchez described the platform offered by the Franklin County Municipal Court (FCMC) for small claims case online resolutions. The court has expanded the options, originally offered only for city tax cases, to include other types of cases.

A benefit of online dispute resolution for small claims cases is that the parties can work together and with a neutral third-party mediator via any device, from anywhere, and at any time. If the parties cannot resolve their dispute online, they can always go to court for their hearing.

Alex Sanchez shares the FCMC’s ODR Experience

First, Sanchez shared his court’s experience and outcomes in the fifteen months since launch.

  • An overview of the platform and process (starting at 15:14).
  • Comfortable and familiar for parties (15:45): “if you can text message, you can use the system.”
  • Easy for the court (16:18). The court did not need their IT staff to set up or implement the system. The court was launching e-filing and IT resources were focused elsewhere.
  • Quick to start (16:58).
  • Accessible (18:13). About a third of the public access the system outside of court business hours.
  • Accessible across income levels. Sanchez shared the usage of the system by median income, it seems that technology access spans income levels (18:50).
  • Results show: Increased the number of agreements and positive dispositions (20:00).

Notes from MJ Cartwright on Court-Connected ODR Best Practices

Next, MJ Cartwright shared best practices and considerations for court-connected online dispute resolution:

  • Where to start? (24:12) The National Center for State Courts and others recommend courts focus on the high volume, lower complexity cases. This emphasis allows courts to spend more time with those cases that require face-to-face handling.
  • Then, share the news to let people know the court offers this online capability (25:20).
  • Define paths of escalation: how/when issues will be escalated to a mediator or handled in person (26:38).
  • Plan how agreements will be documented (27:03).
  • Take an iterative approach and learn from public feedback (28:00).

Then, Q&A started at 32:50.

Recommended Resources for Court Connected Online Dispute Resolution

  • JTC Resource Bulletin – Case Studies in ODR for Courts: A View from the Front Lines. This report covers Franklin County Municipal Court’s platform. Open the PDF.
  • JTC Resource Bulletin – ODR for Courts v. 2. Open the PDF.
  • See all JTC Resource publications on the NCSC website.

Learn more about Franklin County Municipal Court’s use of Matterhorn

Complete Video Transcript

Giuseppe Leone:

So that at the end of our webinar I will send you a link to the video recording and a copy of the presentation that you will see on your screen. My name is Giuseppe Leone, I’m the founder of Virtual Mediation Lab, online mediation made simple. And I’m also a mediator in small claims courts. Actually for the last 21 years, I mediated for, here in Hawaii, for a community mediation center called The Mediation Center of the Pacific. So I’m very excited about this webinar. Our presenters today are Alex Sanchez, and M.J. Cartwright. Alex is the manager of the small claims division, and the dispute resolution departments at the Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio.

M.J. is the CEO of a company called, Court Innovations. Her company is specialized in online disputes resolution for courts. And the software they offer is called Matterhorn. Now let me clarify how the idea of this webinar came about and what you are going to learn today. Fifteen months ago, the Franklin County Municipal Court launched a new online dispute resolution serviced for small claims. That service was built on M.J.’s software, Matterhorn. And so the question is, what for, and how does it work, and why people should be interested in it? Now the answer to the first question, what it’s for, is very simple. To help people settle their small claim disputes online without going to court. How is that done and why should people be interested in it explained in a short video, a 47 second video that is available on the Franklin County website.

And let me read what that video says. Sorry, you may hear some voice, but it should be done pretty soon. The neighbor out cleaning their yard, okay. So the video says, “You want to resolve your case on your own terms without taking time off work for going to court? Then Online Dispute Resolution might be right for you. Online Dispute Resolution is a fast and easy way to resolve the law suits right from your Smartphone or computer. It allows you to negotiate an agreement that works for you, on your own time. Most importantly, it is private, and there is no additional cost. Simply prepare your proposal, submit it for review, and reach and agreement.

Once the parties reach an agreement, everybody will sign it electronically,” I’ll go in a second. “And submit it to the court. If you have questions about the Online Dispute Resolution process, contact your court mediator. If no agreement is reached, then your case will proceed to the legal system. Watch the mediation preparation video for more information on preparing a plan and proposal to resolve your case. Call or text 614-398-1982.” I like to point out, because there are some key words in this message which lasts 47 seconds. The key words are, fast, easy, convenient, it says on your own time using your own Smartphone, you have everything to gain, nothing to lose because it’s free, it’s private, it’s confidential.

And in case you cannot resolve an agreement by yourself, no problem, you can still have your day in court. So it is a very interesting message. Which means we small claims courts, now that most of you have a Smartphone, we are open 24/7, and in terms of justice, it is better if the two of you, the two parties, can’t work, you decide what is just, you decide what is fair, what is acceptable. In case you are unable to do that, no problem, we’ll do what would have been done in the last 30 or 50 years, you come here and a judge will decide how your case should be settled. So the purpose of today’s webinar is a duo. First, now that their system has been available for 50 months, we would like to hear from Alex and M.J. what the results have been.

Not only in terms of facts and figures, but also in terms of response from the public, from the judges, from the court personnel, because there are so many people involved in such a project. And second, we would like Alex and M.J. to give some advice to other small claims courts, either in the United States or abroad who are also interested to make it easier for people to resolve their small claims disputes preferably without going to court. Now before we begin our presentation, let me explain the format of our webinar. So I will start to showing a presentation, so you will hear from Alex, you will hear from M.J., and then we’ll open a Q&A session. Now if you have any questions, please enter your questions using the Q&A panel of your computer or your mobile device.

We will answer as many questions as possible in the second part of the webinar. And in case there is not enough time to answer all questions, no problem. Because when I send you the link to the video, and when I send you the copy of the presentation, I’ll also send you some contact information in case you have questions for Alex or M.J. Okay, so having said that, let me share the presentation, let me open the presentation. Okay, and let me share it. Here is the presentation. So Alex, when you’re ready. Why don’t you start.

Alex Sanchez:

Great, thank you very much Giuseppe, and thank you everyone for joining us today. And for those who are watching this on the recording, thank you for taking the time to watch it. Again, my name is Alex, I’m the Manager for the Small Claims and Dispute Resolution Department in the Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio. There’s a picture of our city right now, well, maybe not now, I guess we’re covered with snow right now. But it gives an idea of the city, our court’s in the background there. Just to give you a little background about our court, we are the largest court in our state. We have about 88 counties, Franklin County is the largest.

In terms of small claims cases, we have about 6,000 cases annually, and about the time we were launching this platform our jurisdiction at the time was $3,000 claims for money only, and it was about to go up to $6,000, so we anticipated a higher volume of cases and more users. Small claims as you may know, it’s a high volume of self-represented parties. Not all parties have attorneys, so there are a lot of self-represented parties that go through the process themselves. Our office kind of serves as a quasi self-help center. We have all the forms here for people. We provide information about the process and the procedures.

And we also offer dispute resolution mediation. We have about seven different mediation programs spanning from pre-file for parties that want to resolve disputes before filing a lawsuit to mediation day of trial, we have court referred mediations. We have about 2,000 mediations annually. But the whole point of what we do here is to help parties resolve disputes in an accessible and convenient way. On the next slide here we have our mission statement, sort of what our purpose is at the court. So you can take a look at our mission, sort of what is the court’s role, and it’s pretty simple. It’s to provide justice, resolve disputes and serve as a resource to the community. So we want to make sure that everything we do ties back to that mission statement.

It’s probably the same type of thing for your court, if you’re involved with the court or if you are associated with the court, you always want to make sure that what you’re doing is accessible, courteous, and you’re serving as a resource to whoever you might be serving. So that’s really a little bit about us and where we come from in terms of our philosophy. And just to give you an idea of why we decided to launch this platform, on the next slide we have sort of what the field was at the time we started thinking about dispute resolution online. You can take a look at our caseload for about a nine month period before we launched the platform. The majority of the cases were default judgments. One party did not appear, typically the defendant.

So the majority of cases were resolved with what I would call negative dispositions, the default judgment. Only a small percentage were actually resolved in a way where the parties either reached some kind of agreement, either paid in full with a dismissal or some other type of agreed judgment entry, I would call those positive ways where the parties are able to resolve them on their own outside of court. So in the majority of the cases that wasn’t happening. I call them negative dispositions. The reason for that is because a lot of resources might have been wasted. One party may have had to come to court, think about also all the time and effort for clerks, bailiffs, anybody grabbing a file, bringing it up to the court, processing that judgment.

And then there’s also a ripple effect outside of that default process, which is typically considered an efficient process, the default judgements given, and the parties move on, the court moves on. But there’s still collections that involves the court processing, collections paperwork. It also might involve third parties like banks or employers, and then it goes on and on. So the dispute may technically be resolved in terms of the lawsuit, but there’s still other aspects that go on throughout the time. So that was sort of the field before we started. And another reason why we launched the platform, on the next slide, I was reading a public opinion survey that the National Center for State Courts put out, and what they highlighted from the people’s survey.

A lot of people had concerns about court inefficiencies, concerns about fairness and also biases from people associated with the court or possibly individuals that were handling the case. So we wanted to make sure that anything that we did was both what people wanted, right? Make sure it was efficient, make sure that people felt that it was a fair process and transparent as well. We also saw from that survey that people wanted alternatives to traditional court processes, basically alternative trials, so things like mediation. People also wanted courts to improve customer service and use technology. So we thought you know, what do people really want?

And it made me think about, as a consumer myself, or a customer myself, what am I thinking about when I’m looking at a new product, or looking at a service that somebody might be providing. And on the next slide here I have sort of the Netflix model, right? User expectations that individuals prefer on-demand service, accessibility, familiarity, comfortability and most importantly, online solutions, a way to access whatever you’re looking for at any time, maybe at your phone, or computer or laptop. We wanted to make sure that what we were doing was meeting these expectations. Whether it was an office, in our court, or through some other type of platform. And that is what led me to meeting M.J. and the Court Innovations Team.

I actually met them at a technology conference, their platform was I think originally designed for traffic cases, and I thought, could that be altered some way to resolve any type of dispute? And on the next slide hee, that’s pretty much what we did. We thought about, what could we do to build out a platform that could resolve any type of disputes? Something that was flexile, agile and worked for the parties. So we met with … specifically to start for a pilot, we met with the City of Columbus Division of Income Tax which is our highest volume filer here in our court for small claims cases, a large number of parties that did not show for their court date. We thought is there a way that we can increase access to the court, help parties resolve their cases in a convenient way without having to come down to court?

Like Giuseppe mentioned in the beginning, our video that we have. And we sat down and thought about, what’s a good workflow? What’s a good process? What’s something that is familiar and comfortable for people. And basically what we came down to was essentially an online way for people to contact the city attorney’s office directly and negotiate directly with them. We also built a sister component to it where the individual could contact the court mediator if they wanted to mediate with another party. So the first thing we’re talking about today is primarily that negotiation, one-to-one negotiation that we created that individuals who want to try to resolve their city tax case, can go straight online to our website. And on the next slide we have what that looks like.

It’s simply that there’s a video, a welcome message, and a get started button, provide their case information, a little information about themselves, what they would like to propose. The City Attorney’s Office gets that, they’ll review it, they’ll send a message back to the party, and the parties will negotiate and try to resolve their case in a way that works for both of them. Whether that’s through some kind of a payment plan, or other type of proposal, or sometimes just exchanging information helps resolve cases or disputes like these. So we wanted to make sure it was very comfortable and familiar with parties. And it’s pretty much … if you can send a text message, you can use this platform.

One of the concerns with … one of the attorneys that we were working with was, would he be able to do it? He’s an older gentleman that didn’t use the internet as much as maybe others, and he had no problem using it. We have yet to get any kind of questions or concerns from users about how to use the platform, or questions about what happens next. It’s self-contained, all the uses enter the information. The platform that we have is actually all hosted by Matterhorn and Court Innovations. So it’s all third party created, third party hosted, third party based. We didn’t do anything in house other than help design it. We didn’t have to use our own court IT resources. Our court’s actually preparing to launch E-filing, so I’m sure our IT guys are pretty busy on that.

So we wanted to make sure that whatever we did was low cost, quick and worked for our court. So it’s all self-contained. From the time we started discussing it and designing it, it was launched within three months. So it was a very, very quick process. And to this day we’re still refining it and making sure that it works for all of our parties. We’ve added new features in addition to the online mediation like I mentioned before. So how people know about it, I talked to … the previous slide had the no use Know Use Benefit. So if people know about it because it’s on our website, we also include, on the next slide here, we send out with all of our small claims complaints and summonses, we include this note card for users or parties, they want to resolve their case. Reduce time at court, end a dispute quicker.

The parties are the decision makers, sort of the foundational basis of mediation, is the parties, self determination, the parties are the ones that determine the outcome of the case, not another person doesn’t tell them what to do. This is really an opportunity for the parties to resolve it. And going back to what I was talking about earlier about sort of that Netflix model, making sure it’s on-demand. We were surprised when we looked at the data and the information on the next slide, the number of people that access the platform outside of your traditional court hours So we’re open, our department’s open from 8:00 to 5:00 p.m. The majority of people access it sometime between that.

There’s also a large group, a large minority, about 34% that access the platform outside of court hours. So before 8:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m., or on the weekend. A lot of people access the platform on the weekend from home. So we wanted to make sure that we provided something that was accessible, and just from the times people go online to start the process, it looks like a large number of people are accessing it at times outside traditional court hours.

On the next slide we also have sort of, we wanted to make sure, is it accessible to all people regardless of who they might be or where they might come from? You saw that, it’s about a third, a third, a third in terms of income levels. We took a look at who was accessing the platform, using census tract information, and that sort of scatter plot graph shows the median family household income in Ohio and the range of users that have accessed the platform for these tax cases. And it spans income levels, it looks like all the way from around a little less than $20,000 on up to around $160,000 plus. So we wanted to make sure that it was equally accessible regardless of who people might be. Because that’s a large concern for … especially when you’re talking about technology, and accessing technology, is that platform something that can be accessed and used by a variety of individuals regardless of their background?

So that’s the preliminary data that we’ve had. And talking about the actual negotiation results for these cases, on the next slide we have it broken down in terms of the agreements, about 93% of parties reach agreement. We have agreed judgment entries where the parties agree on long-term payment plans, usually more than six months or more than a year. short-term payment plans, a majority of individuals go online and negotiate short-term payment plans. One method of that is, at the end of the payment plan the attorney’s office dismisses the case. Same thing with lump-sum settlements, maybe a lump-sum at a reduced amount, also results in a dismissal. On the next slide we consider those agreements where the parties resolve the case on their own outside of court without the need for a judge or magistrate, those are positive dispositions.

And here we have about so far 80% of all the cases that have gone through the platform, have either been dismissed or resulted in long-term payment plans that are an agreed judgment entries. A small portion, 20% have defaulted. Maybe they had a plan that didn’t work out for them, whatever their situation might have been. And this did go do a judgment. But the majority of cases that have gone through our platform have been resolved positively. So on this next slide, I sort of have a before and after comparison. So before the platform that status quo was a large number of defaults, no appearances. A small number of cases that were resolved positively through agreements or otherwise. And then our ODR results show 60% of the cases were dismissed outright, 20% agreed judgment entries and the judgment no appearance default was only 20%.

So there’s a good number that are still active, and every day we get about, I would say an average of one to two users each day that are accessing the platform for the direct negotiation, city attorney side. And then about, I would say three or more, three to four each day for our online mediation, where parties want to go and resolve the dispute either before or during a lawsuit. That’s the before and after for our platform. I’ll stop my portion here now, so I give M.J. some time to talk about her side. But I want to make sure that you guys have time to ask any questions. So feel free to shoot Giuseppe some questions, an I want to make sure I answer them. I’m also of course available at any time if you ever want to call or email me. But I’ll send it over to M.J. now.

M.J. Cartwright

Great, thanks Alex. And it’s been a pleasure working with Alex and his team. And we met up with Alex in Columbus as he had mentioned. And for the next slide, our initiatives and interests really aligned very, very quickly. Increasing access to the courts is really what we focus on. And really for Matterhorn for us being an extension of those courts, such as Franklin Municipal, to really reach more people and reach the community. And when we met Alex it was true, we, if you go to the next slide Giuseppe, we really had started focusing on traffic violations and warrants, the resolution for criminal and traffic cases.

And with Alex we said, “Yeah, can we really make this work for small claims?” And we built on the experience we had working with courts, the experience we had working with how do you even prevent warrants in the case of warrant prevention. And we really grew the platform in a way that I think leverages working with courts in the criminal and traffic space. And we were pretty excited about doing that with Alex. And I think there’s a lot of ingenuity that he and his team brought to the picture when we did that. And if you go to the next slide, you know one of the things is always hard to figure out, is where to start.

And you’re going to start with what types of cases? And one of the things that the National Center for State courts and others is that we, and I’m saying, let’s focus on those where you really have high volume, that they’re the easier cases to look at and not as complex. Because if you focus on having online dispute resolution for those cases, your staff and your team at your court will be able to have face-to-face time on those more complicated cases. If you go to the next slide, let me take you through an example, and it may help a little bit so you know what the citizen experience is, and what Alex was talking to you about.

So for example, if you’re going to file a small claim when your neighbor’s tree fell over on your car. And you’ve been bothering your neighbor to get rid of that half dead tree in the first place. If you go to the next slide, you can see how when you hop on, how do you let people know what’s going on in the court, and that you offer online capability? And Alex’s team, what they do, is they send out information in the mail so they know that they can resolve the cases online. Or if someone has actually filed a case online, that they can hop on as the other party, and work to resolve the case.

The other thing that’s important as far as outreach in your community, is your website, your court staff, your phones, and the team that’s right within your court that’s answering direct questions for people to come into the court, to let them know that this is available for them in the community. And once they know it’s available, then they start using it. And that takes time, but it’s really important to start that and get it rolling. If you look at the next slide, once they’re set up in the system and they’ve put in their information, or we’ve integrated into the information that’s been filed in the court, they have a space where they can negotiate on any of their devices or computers at their own time.

And Alex showed you some of the times when they hop on the system, is not always between 8:00 and 5:00 or whenever your court is open. They can upload information that they need to exchange, and they can also escalate their case to a mediator or escalate it that, this is not going to work in the court, we really need to set up a court date to come in. We just really can’t do it on line. So those paths of escalation are really important as yo work through a platform and you work through the case. If you look at the next slide, this gets at the end, you really want to come to an agreement, and you want the agreement to be documented in a way that they can sign online, it’s very easy for them to review it, sign it.

And then depending on the level of integration that your court has, we can have, in the Matterhorn platform the agreement, ideally it’s E-filed into your court, and then you go from there as far as having it with your court case management system, and your court record and E-filing system. So that’s kind of, obviously a few slides to give you an idea of the look and the flavor, and probably can answer a little bit of the question that Alex had mentioned, when people don’t ask how to use the system, because it’s really meant to be straightforward with a very easy and understandable interface. So if we step back and go to the next slide, one of the things that we have learned is that continuous improvement is one of the most important aspects of getting started with ODR, and the expectations that getting out there, getting started and learning as you have in your community, and then really evolving the system with an iterative growth.

And we really enjoyed working with Alex and his team because you get online dispute resolution out there, you learn from the experiences, you learn what really works well and build on that. And it’s an ongoing trust and support that we’ve established in the short period of time that we’ve been working together. And then if you go to the next slide, it’s also really important and … you know Alex and his team do this so well. They listen to their community and their various parties who are part of the dispute resolution. They listen to them, and they give us that feedback. And there’s one thing that the team here at Matterhorn, we love listening to how users go through the system, we listen to their input.
We use that in the way we design and improve our interfaces, or just improve some of the simple text that’s on a screen, so someone has a better understanding as they go through this process. Because you want people to be in the know, and have them understand what they’re doing when they’re online.

And if you go to the next slide, and this will be really one of my last points as far as things that we’ve learned working with courts, and working with Alex and his team, is that we’re changing the way your community interacts with your court to resolve cases. And as we do this, we’re also changing the way business is done. And we don’t look at years or many months to implement an online dispute resolution system with courts.

When we go from a traffic criminal system to a system for civil or small claims with Alex, yeah it took us three months to build out some of the new features and capabilities that really were needed in that entirely different environment in court. But when we focus on working with courts, we look at a matter of weeks to do an integration, depending on that level of integration you need. We look at a matter of days to configure it so it’s right for your court, and the flavor of your court, the processes and workflows of your court. And then really a matter of an hour or even less then an hour when it takes to train your team.

And the whole idea is get it out there, get working with it, learn from it, and build on it.
Because the sooner your community starts working on this new access of justice to your court, they’re going to be able to build on that, and more and more can use the online capability as you go forward. And as, one of the things that we’ve learned, if you go to the next slide, and we’ve been working with the National Center and learning from other courts what is happening at a National level, and also an international level. And there’s a recent write-up from the Joint Technology Committee, JTC, and the National Center, that highlights the work that’s been done at Franklin County, one of their case studies, and there’s two bulletins that were just released the end of November on case studies, a view from the front lines, and also ODR in the courts.

And these are really great resources to look at, some of the things that Alex has spoken of, and some of the highlights that I have made. And as we go to the next slide, you’ll see that the team at Franklin County Municipal Court, Alex and Veronica, they’re being recognized for the great work that they’ve been doing, and the innovation they’ve been doing, and the Ohio State Bar Association here is acknowledging them. But this is not just in Ohio, and it’s not just a National level. If you go to the next slide you’ll see an international article, and I can’t, this is fortunately in English, so we can kind of read it, but you know the original of this is in Norwegian. And the whole idea is that this is really picking up on an international basis.

There are success stories around the world, and Franklin County in the United States here in Ohio is really on the leading edge of how to do this. We go to the last slide I believe, I think this kind of wraps it up. And I’ll turn it over to our facilitator.

Alex Sanchez

And I saw also there’s some questions, I’ll touch on those real quick. One question was, how is this more effective than just someone talking or texting to each other? We actually have two different types of ODR, for our court we have both the one-to-one negotiation between the individual and the City Attorney’s Office, those are for city tax issues. And then we also have the online dispute resolution for just regular cases. We actually expanded out to cover all civil cases period. And that’s with the use of a third part mediator. So technically parties could negotiate on their own one-to-one and just call each other up or text message each other.

But sometimes you need the assistance of that third party to help facilitate the exchange of information and help parties resolve disputes. Because usually if parties are in disputes, it may have been because communication has broken down, and they’re no longer really effectively communicating with each other. The other one was with a few other-

Giuseppe Leone

Alex.

Alex Sanchez

Oh yeah.

Giuseppe Leone

Sorry to interrupt. Why don’t I read out to the questions so-

Alex Sanchez

Sure, yeah.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, all right.

Alex Sanchez

That’s awesome.

Giuseppe Leone

So let me see, okay, all right, hold on a second, bear with me. Okay. Because we have several questions. And one question is, it’s from Theresa. Could you describe the online mediation process in more detail? For Alex.

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, so for our online mediations, it’s the same process to start. The user goes online, goes to the website, types in the case information if there is a case, or just the general information about the dispute. And then I get that message forwarded to me where I go on, I communicate with the party. It’s essentially mediation, just on a different platform.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, all right. And we have a question from an anonymous attendee. What’s then then your cost to the court? Is it determined by number of cases, an annual subscription fee?

Alex Sanchez:

Ours is sort of a blended cost. We have it both on a transaction per case or per user basis, and also a monthly cost that we pay each month. So we negotiate that one just based on what we thought our need was going to be, didn’t know whether it would be every single person using it, so as we didn’t want to blow up our budget, we do have some money set aside for this. And what we negotiated works very well for our court. So if you are a court or otherwise interested in using it, see in terms of what your volume might be, what you think you might think is workable in terms of a dollar amount, and hopefully M.J. and her team were able to work with you. I don’t know if you have anything to add on that M.J.

Giuseppe Leone

All right.

M.J. Cartwright

Yeah, I think you hit it there, it’s really meant to be very simple on pricing so that it’s about really encouraging transactions on your online dispute resolution system, and the volume and, yeah I think you had a good answer there Alex.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, we have a question from Sean. How you can have confidentiality when I’m using my cellular phone and can screenshot the mediation conversation?

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, that’s a good question. So in our state, mediation communications are privileged which means that, a party couldn’t use the mediation communication in open court, mediator or any party could exercise that privilege to have that prevented from being submitted. When you’re talking about confidentiality, it’s a separate issue. Sort of the parties in our state, the parties would have to agree that the mediation is confidential, meaning that not only can you not share it with the court, you cannot share it with anybody else out of the court. So that would be separate. I’m sure if somebody could look over your shoulder on your phone, but in terms of the negotiation space, it’s only accessible to the users that are in the negotiation space, the mediator an the individual.

We also have caucusing in that space too, so the parties can be separate, if the parties don’t want each other to see what they’re talking with the mediator about. So it’s private in that sense. It’s confidential in that sense in that, the only information that’s shared with the other party, is what the party wants the mediator to share. But of course, in the agreement that the parties reach at the end, if there is an agreement, the parties can also agree to confidentiality. And if they show their messages or somehow, then that would be on them. When the mediation is terminated also, nobody can go back to access the message stream. The only thing that you have access to is the agreement.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, we have a question from Bob. I guess it’s for you Alex. Does your court have a local administrative order that mandates all small claims cases go through mediation before they see a judge or magistrate?

Alex Sanchez

No, and I think that’s the beauty of our dispute resolution process here in our court, is that, parties, especially ODR, parties are only using it because they want to use it. And I think that’s why court connected mediation or dispute resolution is so effective, at least in this sense is that, it’s not used to replace traditional court processes, it’s used to supplement it. I think about, I know when I was in law school reading about the multi-door courthouse, right? Different people have different types of disputes. There’s different processes that might work for them.
We don’t funnel, or force, or require anybody to do this process or mediation. Parties can request mediation. Sometimes the judges will order the parties to negotiate and talk before moving on. But at any time of course, once the mediation started, the parties can terminate it. And our ODR process reflects that as well. At any times parties can terminate negotiations and the space would be closed out.

Giuseppe Leone

All right, we have a question from Jonathan. So is this really an online negotiation form?

Alex Sanchez

Well, yeah, mediation is negotiation. Meditation is facilitated negotiation, for our city specific one, that is direct negotiation. I have administrative privileges so I can see what’s going on, if anybody has any question or if they want my assistance I can always insert myself. But to start for those, those are one-to-one negotiations. The online mediation is obviously again still negotiation, but that’s facilitated by a neutral third party.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, we have another question from Sean. Is the third party communicating in, third party, probably he means the mediator, communicating real time with both parties and following the established guidelines of confidential mediation?

Alex Sanchez

So, the mediator that’s communicating wit the party, that is real time, right? Once the mediator sends the message, the recipient gets it, they get actually, if they put in their cell phone number they get a little text message notifying them that they’ve received a message and go on the platform. Same thing if they’ve put in an email address, so they get that notification. In terms of all other guidelines that relate to mediation, yes it’s a mediation, so the mediator follows everything with respect to both the Uniformed Mediation Act in our state and also of course the ABA Model Standards of Conduct.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. Another question is, is there a time limit within which the disputants must respond to one another?

Alex Sanchez

No, and there is not, and that was one of the things that we were talking about when we were designing it is, should we force parties to only have a certain amount of time, should we require them, should we have rules for negotiating or time limits? Whatever it might be. And we said no, just like mediation is supposed to be a flexible process, self-termination all of that. So the parties determine the outcome, the parties decide when they want to send their messages or respond to their messages. And again, at any point in time, if the parties don’t feel that any progress has been made, one or both could terminate at any time.

Giuseppe Leone

All right. Another question is, hold on a second, from Jim. Do you do civil harassment in small claims, landlord/tenants? I think you mentioned that the cap is $6,000.

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, we have a … our jurisdiction for our small claims, right, it’s $6,000, it’s claims for money owed. So that covers any type of civil claim where the request is for a dollar amount. We can’t ask for the return of property. There are a few things that are prohibited. So we have plenty of landlord-tenant, a lot of accounts collections, like maybe a service provider didn’t get paid, or maybe somebody requested services and those didn’t work out the way the customer thought. Any type of civil claim for money owed is what our small claims court does. I’m not sure exactly for the harassments, I know some things aren’t procedurally allowed in our small claims court. I’m not sure, if it’s criminal or anything criminal like that of course, that wouldn’t be small claims.

Giuseppe Leone

All right. Then we have a question which is easy to answer. The question is, does the mediator give legal advice when the parties do not reach an agreement due to legal issues? The answer is no.

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, the answer is no, no court app of course is prohibited from providing any kind of legal advice. We can explain the legal process or the process of the court until we turn blue, and that’s typically what we do once a mediation, if it’s a pre-file for example, if the parties want information about small claims court or process for getting started, we can refer them to our website. We also have … if individuals might qualify, we have resources from our local legal aid association. They have resources, they do free legal clinics around the states. So we’ll provide parties with those if they request them.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, there is another question which is very easy. It says, Giuseppe, if you run out of questions, it might be worth asking Alex, what’s the cost to the members of the public involved the dispute, and I think the cost is zero, correct?

Alex Sanchez

Right, right. The cost is zero, right. There’s no added cost if you … there’s no cost to request mediation before a lawsuit’s filed, or during the lawsuit. If you request mediation, that’s a service that’s provided by the court. Of course the logic is is that, if the mediation department can resolve the case without having to involve the judge or the magistrate, or any of the other court staff, then you’ve saved your court plenty of resources. It also saves the parties time and money. Like think about today, driving through to court, paying the parking, coming up to the courthouse. So there’s cost saved for both sides.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, then there are actually a few questions. One question is whether the … how the mediator works with the parties? Whether it’s by text, it’s by video, by phone, how does that work?

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, so we’re pretty unique in that we provide mediation services for all of the above. So if a party prefers to talk by phone, you can certainly talk by phone. Our ODR platform is solely text based. So if the person doesn’t feel comfortable using the text based application, of course they can call us, they can do their mediation all by phone. We don’t require parties to come in person, again we want to make sure we’re flexible, increasing access to our court services. So we don’t require parties to show up in person, it can be by phone, you can do it online, anyway that works for the parties.

Giuseppe Leone

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, then a question for Alex. What were the actual number of cases that were mediated online since you started your program?

Alex Sanchez

Okay. In terms of the city tax, I think we’re up to around 200 or so. We’re at about 300 plus for traditional court mediations, where parties have gone online to try to resolve their disputes using that.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. Hold on a second, because we have many questions here. One question is from Doug. After parties request mediation, how are mediators assigned? Who are the mediators? Volunteers, referral to community mediation center.

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, we have … all of our mediation services in our court are provided by court staff, or we also have partnerships with our local law schools, and they provide students that are learning, they’re in mediation clinic, they have trial mediation services. We also have a partnership with a local community center that provides mediation services on day of trial eviction cases. So we use both a combination of students, outside mediators, court staff and independent contractor mediators to do mediations. I’m the sole mediator for the online platform.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, hold on a second because we have a lot of questions coming in. Okay, one question is from Carrie. Can we see a see a quick [inaudible 00:46:10] of the ODR system? We can, but probably not today, because we have only 15 minutes left.

Okay, that was another question. How are the mediators paid? Per case, per hour?

Alex Sanchez

Oh for or staff, our staff mediators obviously were staff, that’s just a cost absorbed by the department. For independent contractors we have a … it’s a block period, so if they’re there for a morning block they receive a certain amount for that. Same thing with an afternoon block or a full day. So that’s just a separate contract we have with them.
Giuseppe Leone: Okay, another question. Is there a follow up afterwards to confirm that the agreement is enacted?

Alex Sanchez

So we’ll follow up with parties if requested. Sometimes if it’s a situation where for example, if it’s not online, it’s an issue that we had for a lot of cases where maybe the agreement’s mailed off for a signature, and then you got to wait for it to get returned. Maybe you’ll follow up and say, “Hey, did you mail that agreement back?” So we’ll follow up in that sense. If parties have questions about the terms or something like that, we can also follow up. If parties have issues about the agreement or they didn’t like what they agreed to, we can always do another mediation at the parties request. So we’re flexible in that way.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, another question was, from Lisa. Have you seen a decrease in clerk involvement due to ODR? Has that increased since implementation?

Alex Sanchez

So the hope with all cases that go through ODR is that there’s less work associated with those cases. So hopefully there’s less work associated with people needing to grab that file out of the clerk’s office and pull it up for review for the judge or the magistrate. The hope is that these cases are all resolved, and they never go through that process. So in that sense, it’s reduced the workload for other court staff, so that they can focus on other cases, other issues, and then we do all the work associated with resolving the cases resolved online.

Giuseppe Leone

Alex, do you need a glass of water? Because there are many questions.

Alex Sanchez

Keep going, keep going, we got a few more minutes.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. Do all agreements automatically become part of the court record?

Alex Sanchez

Well that depends, that depends of course. I think that refers back to the confidentiality issue, and your parties could agree to confidentiality and that agreement would never be part of the court file. Sometimes, like for the case of plenty of other agreements, those are made a part of the court file. For example, if the hearing date gets continued out to allow the parties to complete the agreement, or maybe it doesn’t work out, so the parties are back. And then the court might enforce the agreement. It just depends on what the parties want.
If they want the agreement to be included and there’s no confidentiality provision, then we’ll go ahead and include that in the court file. A lot of our cases though, on our platform, there’s no lawsuit at all, so we don’t keep that other than just in a folder file either on the platform, or in our office, just a large number of agreements that were reached outside of court.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, another question is, how do you verify that the person negotiating online is the actual person?

Alex Sanchez

That’s a good question, yeah. I’ve gotten that question a few times. I guess it asked a similar question. When people come into court, how do you know those are the people that are there for their case? At least in our court and other courts, we don’t do any kind of ID check or ask people to produce any kind of personal information to make sure they are who they say they are. So I don’t think we’ve ever had any issues where people are going online to try to resolve debts or disputes that aren’t the people. We always ask, the information for the person, the person types in their name and contact information if they want to. But that hasn’t been really a concern for us.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. Well, we have so many questions. Let me read one from Diana. How do you make sure vulnerable people, for example, mentally impaired, are not taken advantage of by the other party? I think that’s more with mediation online.

Alex Sanchez

That’s a good, yeah, and that would speak to sort of the same issues that in any other type of mediation dispute resolution process. Hopefully the individual has the ability to make informed decisions and decisions on their own, and the whole self determination aspect. If for some reason we feel that an individual is unable to make decisions on their own, whether it’s coercion or some kind of intellectual disability, we will try to reach out to them some other way. Whether it’s by phone or ask them to come down to do a further intake. We do intake with parties, it’s just the level of intake we do just depends on the situation.
So in that situation, if we had some kind of concern for a party, similar to an individual where English might not be their primary language, we offer interpreters at no cost to the party. So we sort of do some kind of intake and determine whether we need some additional processes for that party.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. One question is, do you include the penalty clauses in the agreement to prevent breach of payment timelines for instance?

Alex Sanchez

So, in our court, our state, in our mediations, the mediators don’t create terms for the parties. The mediator doesn’t make any decisions for these parties. If the parties want to include some kind of penalty for example, like you know if you don’t pay within a certain day, there’s a late fee or something like that. Or, if you don’t pay, you know, we’ll reserve the right to come back to court. That would be up to the parties to put those terms in the agreement. We can explain the process, so we can explain what options might be available to the parties that reach an agreement. For example, the day of trial, what the court could do with the case, you know continue it, dismiss it, whatever it might be. So that would be up to the parties specific terms.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, question from Doug. After parties request mediations, how are mediators assigned, who are the mediators, volunteers, referral to community mediation centers?

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, we talked about that. We have a combination of volunteer staff and-

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, all right. Okay so let me see. We have answered that. Hold on a second, let me see because we have so many. Okay, cost, we have seen the cost, okay we have seen this.

Alex Sanchez

We’ve also done mediations by Skype as well. So if parties want to do it sort of face-to-face with the mediator, we can host to be on Skype.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. We have done that, hold on a second all right? So is there a forum, yes it is an aligned negotiation form. Is there a time limit, we talked about that. The mediator gives no legal advice, we talked about that. There is a question I’m not sure I understand. It says, my question is that our city treasurer’s office handles negotiations. The city attorney’s office gets involved once a complaint warrant has been issued for the defendant. To keep the court from being the middle man, how would court innovations handle this matter? It’s a question for you M.J.

M.J. Cartwright

Yeah.

Alex Sanchez

It sounds like, is the platform available to organizations or entities outside the court. So for example if the office wanted to do it themselves, I think that might be the question M.J.

M.J. Cartwright

Yeah, yeah. And you know, we pull in the right parties and the right permissions and log-ins to pull in the various people. So Marquita on your question there, it’s a good one, and when you pull in your city attorneys, we also to make sure that when we pull them in to a specific case that we only show the information that should be shown off to the various parties. So that’s another piece of it as well.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. An easy question, hold on a second. The question was, whether the parties sign a confidentiality agreement, Alex, do they?

Alex Sanchez

That would be again, that’s a term if the parties want to agree to confidentiality, they can agree outright at the start of the mediation, or they can make confidentiality a part of the term in the agreement. So in our state, that would be up to the parties to determine. We don’t force parties to agree to any kind of confidentiality. By default, all mediation communications are privileged.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. Is mediation mandatory or voluntary?

Alex Sanchez

The majority of our mediations are voluntary, the parties are the ones that self refer out, self refer to our department. We have about a thousand judge referred cases where the judge reviews the case and refers the parties out to mediation. Same thing with a lot of small claims cases. That’s where have the trial mediations.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. And easy question, quick one. Giuseppe, where are you located. Hawaii. It looks sunny and hot. That’s true, thank you. Okay, so that’s easy, okay. Let’s see the other. Oh, and there was another question, probably find it. How mediators respond to Alex, this idea. I mean what did you do to get them on board? Because some face-to-face mediators do not like the idea of online.

Alex Sanchez

Yeah, yeah, and that’s a common reaction. Some parties don’t feel comfortable not coming down in person or being in person. Again, we focus on the flexibility of the process, that’s the beauty of mediation, it’s flexible, convenient, works for the parties, supposed to reduce costs as well. Some mediators, right, yeah I completely understand that. Some mediators only prefer to do … have all the parties in person face-to-face versus maybe caucusing or by phone. Of course, we don’t mandate any type of process, if the parties want to do something, or don’t want to do something, we always go by what the parties want.
You know with the face-to-face mediation you might have a lot of issues like the one of you were mentioned was questions about capacity or the party felt that they were disadvantaged by, maybe they’re self-represented and there’s an attorney in the room. You know of course we can always the structure the mediation to just go by shuttle, shuttle mediation, caucus mediation, so it just depends on what the parties want and what the situation calls for. Of course, you know mediation, again, once you start you can always end it. So if a party doesn’t like, phone only, or online only, or doesn’t want to be in person, you can always terminate it.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay, and we are reaching the end of our webinar. Last question for you Alex. Do you find the fact that the lawsuit is not being file to be a deterrent to defendants being willing to participate?

Alex Sanchez

If there’s no lawsuit, and responding party, we call them respondents in that situation, again it’s up to them. We always present the mediation process, whether it’s online or any other process, where there’s no lawsuit is basically an opportunity to resolve whatever that conflict or that dispute is. So if they want to take advantage of that opportunity, they certainly can. If they have any questions or concerns about the process, we’ll go ahead and explain that and how it’s flexible and easy to handle. If they have information about what happens if no mediation goes for it, right? If the other party wants to pursue some kind of lawsuit or legal process, we can also explain that. And no matter what we do, we always want to make sure parties make informed decisions on their own, so that’s what we would do in those situations.

Giuseppe Leone

Okay. Before we wrap up, M.J., is there any advice that you would give to small claim courts who are interested in this? I mean, how do they start, I mean where do they start? Do they contact you, or how does it work?

M.J. Cartwright

Yeah, I mean, you know, contacting us. We encourage people to talk with Alex and some of the other courts we work with. We appreciate Alex’s willingness to talk to them. And yes, by all means reach out, and we can talk about your specific cases that you are really considering for online dispute resolution.

Giuseppe Leone

All right, great, thank you. So to wrap up, let me remind you that if a few hours from you will receive the link to the video recording of this webinar, so you can watch it on your own time. Obviously you’re welcome to share it with other colleagues who may be interested in this topic. You’ll also receive a copy of our PowerPoint presentation. You will receive the contact information in case you have some questions for Alex, for M.J. or both. And you’ll also receive two useful documents.
There are two reports, so that’s I think M.J. mentioned, prepared by the Joint Technology Committee. Which is committee formed by the Conference of State Court Administrators, the National Association for Court Management, National Center of State Courts. One is a resource bulletin which explains what ODR for courts means, what it takes to make it work, and includes 18 recommendations from who have lived an ODR implementation. One recommendation is, take it slowly. The other one involved the public. And the second document, which M.J. mentioned already, is a case study. A case study in ODR in the courts, a view from the front lines.
And at least nine case studies in the USA, Canada and Europe, and one of those studies is of course Alex and M.J.’s study. And finally I will also send you the link to a very interesting book. It’s called, Rebooting Justice. Which is about how ODR can help people resolve their disputes. Any final comments, Alex, M.J., or you are there, did you find this to be interesting? Obviously we hope so. So let me … again, thank you for your interest in this webinar. I think it’s been as useful to you as it has been to us. And thank you again then. Goodbye now.

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Posted in Event, Small Claims.