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Alternative Dispute Resolution

Our Court has long recognized the importance of alternative dispute resolution procedures for litigants and our policy is to provide this service through our magistrate judges. Nationally, only a small number of civil cases filed in federal courts actually go to trial. The great majority of them eventually settle. We have a well-established procedure to facilitate the settlement of civil cases.

As provided in Local Rule 607, the full-time magistrate judges of this Court conduct settlement conferences in cases referred to them by district judges for alternate dispute resolution. When cases are filed in our Court, a district judge is randomly assigned to each case. Once a case is at issue, the district judge will promptly issue a scheduling order which directs the parties to report, at various times, on the settlement status of the litigation and whether the parties request referral for a settlement conference before a magistrate judge. If the parties agree, cases are assigned to magistrate judges for settlement at the earliest time that it is determined by the Court, with input from the parties, that a settlement conference would be productive.

The magistrate judges make every effort to schedule the settlement conference as promptly as their schedules will permit. In doing so, the assigned magistrate judge issues an order scheduling the conference and requesting each party to submit ex parte (for the judge's eyes only) a letter outlining the facts, legal issues, strengths, weaknesses, and prior settlement history of the case.

In addition to the attorney of record, the order also requires the party, or an individual authorized by the party with authority to settle the case, appear in person for the settlement. The settlement negotiations take place under strict conditions of confidentiality. All ex parte letters and communications, as well as comments made by the lawyers, parties and the settlement judge are confidential and will not be relayed to the trial judge.