It is not exactly news that the country’s state legislators, strapped for cash, have had to make some unpalatable cuts in order to balance budgets. And, those budget casualties have included state courts. What is perhaps only now just rising to the attention of the public, however, is the ripple effect of those cuts on court dockets and the administration of swift justice across the U.S. And those that administer justice are raising significant alarm.
The chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye was recently interviewed regarding pending cuts to the California judiciary. She called them “devastating and crippling” and a “blow against justice.” Similar cries of alarm have been issued by judges and lawyers of all stripes around the country. All agree that cuts to the judiciary will only serve to lengthen dockets and impede justice for both criminal and civil matters.
While all these voices have pointed out the devastating impact these cuts will have on the judiciary, few have offered solutions, other than restoring budgets. In today’s world, however, where funds are tight for every level of government, this does not seem a realistic proposition any time soon. The courts, as any public institution, seem destined, rightly or wrongly, to have to make do with less.
The ADR community needs a healthy court system. The symbiosis between the courts and ADR providers is critical. Multi-year backlogs for civil cases hurt everyone. But the ADR community should be part of the dialogue regarding coping with these cuts. Budgets are not going to bounce back up, and dockets are not going to shrink.
The ADR community has long been at the forefront of doing more with less. Mediation and arbitration provide practical alternatives to lengthy and expensive court battles. Until now, they were options chosen by litigants seeking a more efficient and equitable end to disputes. But in the context of today’s funding cuts, we in ADR can provide significant relief to clogged courts and overworked judges. Often ADR practitioners serve as discovery referees or special masters to help with evidence, discovery or to streamline some of the court processes. Additionally mediators or arbitrators will rule on components of larger, more complex cases, again to help speed up the proceedings.
ADR is not the complete answer, and it would be wrong-headed and self-serving to suggest that. But, our community’s talented and experienced practitioners are adept at finding cost-effective solutions. This is where ADR’s strength lies and we owe it to the judicial system to be part of the dialogue around solutions. It is our duty as legal practitioners to do what we can in service of the system. We don’t propose to replace the court system, but we do offer a way to lessen the burden on the civil courts. The swift administration of justice is at stake.