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Supreme Judicial Court Rules

Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Uniform Dispute Resolution Rule 4: Implementation of court-connected dispute resolution

Effective Date: 01/01/2005
Updates: Adopted May 1, 1998, effective June 1, 1998 Amended July 21, 2004, effective January 1, 2005

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(a) Development of list of approved programs

(i) The Chief Justice of each Trial Court department, subject to review for compliance by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, shall approve programs to receive court referrals in accordance with these rules. In order to be approved, programs must: agree to meet the operations standards in Rule 7; agree to ensure that the neutrals on their roster who provide court-connected dispute resolution services meet the qualifications standards in Rule 8; and agree to ensure that the neutrals on their roster follow the ethical standards in Rule 9 when providing court-connected dispute resolution services. The list of approved programs shall be developed and maintained through an open process which includes at least the following: advertisement of the opportunity to apply to be on the list; fair assessment of programs; efforts to ensure diversity among neutrals as to race, gender, ethnicity, experience, and training; policies about the length and termination of participation on the list; and procedures for removing a program from the list for cause and/or as a result of a complaint filed pursuant to Rule 4(f).

(ii) The Chief Justice for Administration and Management shall distribute a combined list of the programs approved pursuant to subparagraph (i). The list shall include information as to each program regarding geographic region, fees, and dispute resolution processes; and information as to each program's expertise, including process and subject matter expertise;

(b) Trial Court department plans

Each Trial Court department shall develop plans each fiscal year for the use of court-connected dispute resolution services by the courts in the department. The Chief Justice shall develop the plan in consultation with the department advisory committee, the department coordinator of court-connected dispute resolution services, and the courts in the department. Services may be provided only by programs on the list developed pursuant to paragraph (a) of Rule 4. The plan shall set forth information about court-connected dispute resolution services in the department, including at least the following: current status, goals and objectives, plans for the coming year, any plans for collaborating with other departments, a budget request, case selection and screening criteria, plans for early intervention, and needs for education programs. Where appropriate, each portion of the plan shall address: plans with respect to access to dispute resolution services, the quality of the services, and efforts to foster innovation in the delivery of services. Plans shall ensure that court-connected dispute resolution services are available to those who lack the financial resources to pay for the services and those who would not otherwise have access to the services. The plans shall be submitted by September 1 of each year to the Chief Justice for Administration and Management for review and approval.

(c) Pilot programs for mandatory participation in dispute resolution services

Any Trial Court department may propose to the Chief Justice for Administration and Management for review and approval an experimental pilot program which requires parties in civil cases to participate in non-binding forms of dispute resolution services. No Trial Court department shall administer such a pilot program without the approval of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management. Case types not suitable for dispute resolution services should be identified. The pilot program may provide for the mandatory participation of the parties and shall be assessed regularly to control quality. The minimal requirements for mandatory participation shall be as follows:

(i) each party shall be provided with an opportunity to terminate the dispute resolution services, upon motion to the court for good cause shown, but unwillingness to participate shall not be considered good cause;

(ii) the court shall give preference to a dispute resolution process upon which the parties agree;

(iii) the court shall explicitly inform parties that, although they are required to participate, they are not required to settle the case while participating in dispute resolution services; and

(iv) no fees may be charged for mandatory participation in dispute resolution services, but the court may charge fees for elective dispute resolution services.

(d) Funding of court-connected dispute resolution services

 As part of the annual budget requests required by G. L. c. 211B, § 10(viii) and (x) , the Chief Justice of each Trial Court department shall include a request for funding for court-connected dispute resolution services. The budget request shall provide for the funding of court-connected dispute resolution services for those parties who lack the financial resources to pay for the services or who would not otherwise have access to the services. Funds may be used for approved programs to provide screening and to provide and/or administer the services. Budget requests shall estimate funds needed to maintain previously funded services provided by approved programs. Additional amounts shall be used for the expansion or improvement of services or for innovative services. Expenditures shall be subject to the approval of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management after consultation with the Standing Committee.

(e) Contracts for court-connected dispute resolution services

(i) If public funds are appropriated or otherwise available and allocated by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management of the Trial Court for contracts with court-connected dispute resolution programs, the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, in consultation with First Justices or other justices with administrative responsibility for courts and the Chief Justices of affected departments, shall issue one or more requests for proposals for dispute resolution services to be provided by contracts with approved programs, shall select programs through a competitive bidding process, and shall execute contracts for services on behalf of departments and courts which may extend for no more than three years. These contracts may provide for a program to receive payments approved under paragraph (d) and may provide that a court will refer all or most of its cases requiring dispute resolution services to one or more contracting programs.

(ii) If public funds are not involved, but courts seek an exclusive arrangement with a program or programs for court-connected dispute resolution services, the Chief Justice of the affected department or his or her designee shall, in consultation with the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, issue one or more requests for proposals to be provided by contracts with approved programs, shall select programs through a competitive process, and, with the approval of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, shall execute contracts for services on behalf of departments and courts which may extend for no more that three years. These contracts may provide that a court will refer all or most of its cases requiring dispute resolution services to one or more contracting programs.

(iii) In selecting programs with which to contract, the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, or the Chief Justice of the department, as applicable, is encouraged to give preference to programs which demonstrate a record of and commitment to maintaining a diverse roster and operating in a manner which is accountable to the community.

(iv) The competitive bidding requirements in this subsection shall not apply to programs in which dispute resolution services are provided exclusively by court employees.

(f) Complaint mechanism

The Chief Justice for Administration and Management, in consultation with the Chief Justices of the departments and with the advice of the Standing Committee, shall develop a uniform procedure for handling complaints regarding court-connected dispute resolution services.

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Updates: Adopted May 1, 1998, effective June 1, 1998 Amended July 21, 2004, effective January 1, 2005
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