The District Court small claims mediation program was developed in 2005. It provides litigants with an opportunity to try to resolve their cases with the help of a mediator rather than having to go before a judge.
Mediation is a confidential process in which both sides meet with a mediator who has been approved by the State Court System. The mediator is trained to discuss the case with you and assist you in working out a resolution. The mediator will listen to both you and the other side to help each of you look at things in a way that may allow you find a solution that meets both your needs.
If you present your case to a judge, it is entirely possible that the judge may not rule in your favor. Through a mediator, you get to control the outcome. The ultimate decision about whether to settle your case and the terms of the settlement will rest in your hands. If at any point during the mediation you are unhappy about how it is going, you can end the process, and have your case heard by a judge.
If you do reach an agreement, your agreement will be presented to a judge, and the terms of the agreement will become a court order. If a resolution cannot be reached at mediation, a judge will hear your case, and the settlement discussions will not be admitted during your trial.
In cases where the claim is $5,000 or less, mediation is voluntary and the court will either offer mediation as an option to you on the same day as your case is scheduled, or you will be contacted by a mediator who will set up a mediation session at the court in advance of your hearing day. The District Court Clerk where your case is scheduled will be able to tell you which process that particular court uses if you are unsure and would like to know in advance.
In cases where the claim exceeds $5,000, mediation is mandatory. Mandatory mediation means that you must try mediation before your hearing. It does not mean you are required to settle. It only means that you must appear at the mediation session and make a reasonable good faith attempt to explore settlement options. If you are unable to settle the matter after engaging in such a discussion, then you have met your obligation and you can end the mediation and the matter will return to the trial docket for a hearing in the matter before a judge.
The program is funded by a $5.00 surcharge on the filing fee for cases where the claim is $5,000.00 or less and it is funded by a $60.00 surcharge on cases where the claim exceeds $5,000.00. There is no additional cost for this service as mediation is offered for the convenience of the parties.