DeKalb County Courts established the Multi-Door Courthouse, Dispute Resolution Center so that citizens in disputes would have input into the method used to resolve their disputes. The goal of the Center is to offer parties alternative paths to reach settlement of disputes without experiencing the stress, expense and delay inherent in litigation. While the choice of litigation remains an option and is never relinquished by use of another alternative, the court recognizes that other methods to reach settlement of disputes may ultimately be more satisfying and successful than actual litigation.
If one of the alternative choices offered by the Dispute Resolution Center is chosen, a State registered and DeKalb Court certified neutral will be appointed to assist the parties in resolving the dispute. The services of the Dispute Resolution Center, and the neutral appointed, are free to the parties. All conferences are confidential and privileged. The proceedings are less formal and significantly more relaxed than a courtroom, and parties are given an opportunity to present their case in whatever method they feel most appropriate. All parties must agree on the ADR process and Center staff are available in person or by phone to assist in providing information in order for parties to make their decision.
Selection of private Alternative Dispute Resolution is also an option. Parties can select a neutral on their own or come into the Center to review a list of private providers who have submitted information on their services to the Center. If private ADR is selected parties will be responsible for all fees for service.
The following options for dispute resolution are available through the DeKalb program:
Mediation-- Mediation is a confidential negotiation process. Through the process the mediator remains a neutral facilitator enabling the parties to identify interests (verses rights), prioritize issues and explore a broad range of options that could resolve their dispute(s). Mediation can be useful across a wide variety of case types but is particularly appropriate when there are emotional issues involved and there will be any form of a continuing relationship between the parties. The mediator at any time that they feel no progress is being made. Of all ADR processes, mediation promotes the parties maintaining the greatest control in the problem solving process.
Early Neutral Evaluation-- This process provides for a confidential, non-binding evaluation conference under the direction of an experienced attorney who has significant expertise in the subject matter of the case. Held in the early states of litigation, the goal is to make the case discovery and development process more organized, less time consuming, and less expensive. Lawyers on both sides attend with their clients and each side makes a brief presentation of their case. The evaluator assists the parties in identifying areas of agreement and attempts to narrow the legal and factual issues. This process is usually reserved for the more complex cases. The evaluator provides the parties an opportunity to engage in settlement discussions should they desire to do so. If unsuccessful, the evaluator helps the parties to develop a plan and a schedule to position the case for future settlement discussions or for such further action as may be necessary.
Case Evaluation-- The role of the evaluator in this process is to asset the parties in taking an objective look at the strengths and weaknesses of their own case, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents case. The goal is to provide parties with a reality check based upon the opinions of a neutral, who must be an attorney with at least 10 years experience and sufficient practical experience in the subject matter involved in the dispute. The evaluator cannot act as an advocate of attorney for either party but must remain neutral. The evaluator assists the parties in the examination of the issue(s) in dispute and possible settlement. Should the parties be unsuccessful in reaching a settlement through these negotiations, the evaluator will provide a frank assessment of the overall range of possible damages and the likelihood of liability. No one is bound by anything said or done unless a settlement is reached.
Non-Binding Arbitration-- This option provides for the appointment of arbitrators who will hear the case and give an award which takes into consideration both liability and damages. The arbitrators are attorneys with additional training in arbitration or an attorney and other professionals with expertise in the subject matter of the case who have also met arbitration training requirements. The process is confidential and any party dissatisfied with the award may, within 30 days, reject it and request trial. The process involves each side giving an outline of their case and evidence to support their position. The rules of evidence are relaxed, the hearing is informal and cross examination of witnesses is allowed. After each side has rested, each side is allowed a brief closing argument. The parties will then retire and the arbitrators will consider the evidence and render an award. After the award has been entered, if desired, the arbitrators will discuss with parties the reasons why they arrived at such an award. This gives parties and their attorneys a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their case.