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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services in the Trial Court

An overview of ADR services provided by the seven Trial Court departments as well as lists of available programs.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a generic term used to describe certain processes in which an impartial third person assists parties in settling a case without the need for trial. ADR has been developed because in some cases a non-adjudicatory result is quicker, less expensive and more satisfying.  

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Supreme Judicial Court Rule

Court-Connected ADR is governed by the Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution, Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:18, which took effect in 1999 and are designed to offer litigants more options in resolving disputes. There are seven ADR processes defined in the Uniform Rules: arbitration, conciliation, case evaluation, dispute intervention, mediation, mini trial and summary jury trial. The best known and most used ADR process is mediation.

Trial Court Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution

The Trial Court Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution advises the Chief Justice of the Trial Court with respect to the implementation and oversight of court-connected dispute resolution services in the Trial Court.

Trial Court Department Overview

Each Trial Court Department has designated a person to be responsible for the administration of ADR services within that department. In addition, each division in every Trial Court Department has designated someone to be the local dispute resolution coordinator to maintain information about ADR and assist the public in using those services.  Pursuant to Rule 4(a) of the Uniform Rules, programs are approved by the Chief Justice of each of the Trial Court Departments, and most are approved in more than one department.

There are 68 individual court-approved programs providing alternative dispute resolution services in the seven Trial Court Departments. Pursuant to Rule 4(a) of the Uniform Rules, programs are approved by the Chief Justice of each of the Trial Court Departments, and most are approved in more than one department. Overall these 68 programs account for 102 program approvals across the seven departments.

Of the 68 programs, 38 operate as primarily free or non-fee-based programs in the Boston Municipal, District and Juvenile Court Departments. Many of these programs are also approved in the Land Court, Superior Court and Probate and Family Court Departments and are allowed to charge fees for services in those Departments. The other 30 programs operate primarily as fee-based programs in the Land Court, Superior Court and Probate and Family Court Departments. Services provided by in-house providers and Bar-sponsored programs are free to litigants except some conciliation programs may be approved to charge administrative fees in the Probate and Family Court Department.

Boston Municipal Court ADR programs

The Boston Municipal Court Department has approved 5 free community mediation programs providing free mediation services in civil, small claims, summary process, harassment prevention order, and minor criminal cases in eight divisions.

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District Court ADR programs

The District Court Department has approved 23 programs providing free mediation services in small claims, summary process and minor criminal cases in 58 of the 62 Court divisions by volunteer mediators. The District Court has 6 conciliation programs that are supplying services in 10 divisions.

Housing Court ADR programs

The Housing Court Department has approved 7 programs, an in-house ADR program (office of the Housing Specialists) and an outside program that provides specific services. The Housing Specialists are approved in all six court divisions to provide free mediation and dispute intervention services; they resolve hundreds of summary process and landlord/tenants disputes weekly. Six fee charging programs have been approved for cases requiring subject matter expertise in the areas of lead paint, mold and asbestos, zoning litigation and environmental litigation.

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Juvenile Court ADR programs

The Juvenile Court Department has 18 approved programs offering free mediation services for Child Requiring Assistance (CRA), delinquency and parent-child cases. Permanency mediation services are available in some counties.

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Land Court ADR programs

The Land Court Department has 5 approved programs providing ADR services. In addition to these court-connected providers, the Land Court has an on-site part-time mediator pilot program. Pursuant to Land Court Standing Order 1-04, through which the court adopted its individual calendar system and time standards, the judge assigned to each case must conduct an “Early Intervention Event” as defined by SJC Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution not later than at the Case Management Conference, held within 90 days of the filing of the complaint.

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Probate & Family Court ADR programs

The Probate and Family Court Department has 31 approved programs offering ADR services. This includes an “in-house” dispute intervention services administered by the Massachusetts Probation Service and conducted by probation officers in each of the 14 court divisions. The Probate and Family Court has 11 conciliation programs.

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Superior Court ADR programs

The Superior Court has approved 17 private sector programs that offer ADR services. Among these are two programs that provide free conciliation services in civil cases through volunteer attorneys in Essex County and Middlesex County (Lowell). The Superior also has a free in-house mediation program, primarily in Worcester, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk counties, that is staffed by three volunteer retired Superior Court judges and an ADR Officer employed by the court.

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