Supreme Court and State Judicial Council Adopt Recommendations Made by Ad Hoc Dispute Resolution Task ForceBy John C. Schafer
On December 1, 1999, at the request of a North Carolina Bar Association Task Force and several others, Chief Justice Henry Frye appointed an ad hoc Dispute Resolution Task Force (the "Task Force"). The mission of the Task Force was:
To make written recommendations to [Chief Justice Frye] about the best governance structure for all our court-sponsored dispute resolution programs, including both the Superior Court and District Court mediation programs, the arbitration program, and such other programs that serve to defer cases from the trial court to non-adversarial settlement procedures.
After five meetings the Task Force issued its report on May 22, 2000. On May 24, 2000 the State Judicial Council voted unanimously to adopt the Task Forces recommendations, and a standing Dispute Resolution Committee was soon thereafter established by order of the Supreme Court.
The members of the Task Force unanimously agreed that there was a strong need in North Carolina for a single forum to provide for ongoing coordination and policy direction for the court-sponsored dispute resolution programs in the state. Some of the recommendations ultimately made in the report were as follows:
- That "the coordination and policy guidance for the court-sponsored dispute resolution programs be provided by the creation of a standing Dispute Resolution Committee (hereafter, Committee) of the State Judicial Council (hereafter, Council)";
- That "the Judicial Council and its Dispute Resolution Committee be composed in such a way that as many dispute resolution perspectives and disciplines as possible be represented";
- That the Committee "be structured: (1) to provide a forum for the resolution of inter-program issues and (2) to provide policy guidance for all court-sponsored dispute resolution programs as the need arises. More importantly, it will provide a forum for the raising of larger issues about the future direction of the court-sponsored dispute resolution movement within the North Carolina court system";
- That the Committee "will also serve as a clearing-house and incubator for rules that affect dispute resolution programs before they are reviewed by the Council and submitted to the Supreme Court for review and adoption";
- That "[t] he DRC should continue to exist and to fulfill its statutory mandate to certify mediators and training programs; to deal with ethical issues; and to provide advice and suggestions on the overall operation of the mediated settlement programs".
As explained in the report, the Task Forces recommended structure was not the only alternative considered. In fact, the recommended structure was the subject of "much debate".
One proposal seriously considered by the Task Force was to create a single agency to carry out the current functions of the DRC as well as the functions that this recommendation would assign to the Committee of the Judicial Council. That single agency, whether as a Council subcommittee or as an independent entity, would coordinate all dispute resolution/settlement programs, handle mediator certification, and make recommendations to the Supreme Court through the Judicial Council on rules, policy and structure for all court-sponsored dispute resolution programs. Documents describing this alternative are included in the minutes on file with the AOC.
That approach would combine in one organization the responsibility for rule generation and ethics determinations with questions of program rules and policy, which some members believe would be a significant advantage. This might avoid the possible problems of duplication, volunteer burnout and turf protection. After much debate, the Task Force ultimately decided to recommend that the Committee limit its focus to providing policy guidance and leave certification and other operational responsibility for specific programs in the entities that now have that responsibility.
Because neither the Council nor its Committee yet have the benefit of experience in addressing system-wide policy and rule-reviewing needs, and in recognition of the fact that structural modifications may be necessary, the Task Forces final recommendation was:
that the Judicial Council and the Chief Justice review this Committees charge and operation no later than two years after it is finally established to determine if it is meeting the needs of the public, the courts and the dispute resolution community . . . .The review should be wide-ranging and should involve the opportunity for input from the Committee, the DRC, the AOC, court officials and any other interested parties.
Regardless of whether or not the two-year review of the governance structure indicates that some additional tinkering may be advisable, it is clear that the framework recommended by the Task Force, and adopted by the Judicial Council, will be an improvement over the current structure, and will allow dispute resolution programs and procedures to continue their development with a clearer understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the various governmental agencies and other persons and groups involved in the process. A complete copy of the 22-page Task Force report and attached appendix is posted in the mediation section of the Industrial Commissions home page, which is located at www.comp.state.nc.us.
Note: John Schafer is a Deputy Commissioner and the Dispute Resolution Coordinator for the N.C. Industrial Commission.
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