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Joe Basta Testifies Before House Law & Justice Committee Regarding “Automatic Mediation”

PREMi professional and former State Bar of Michigan ADR Section chair Joseph Basta recently spoke to a Michigan legislative committee about House Bill 5073, which would generally require legal disputes to be referred to mediation.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Klint Kesto of Oakland County, would impose the requirement on civil non-domestic relations actions in which claimed damages exceed $25,000 as well as contested probate court proceedings. According to Rep. Kesto, “automatic mediation will provide an efficient procedure to achieve early resolution of disputes, avoid costly time-consuming delays associated with litigation, would prevent the backlog of caseload faced by so many of our courts and also allows for opt-outs if the parties actually prefer litigation.”

The bill would compel a judge to refer an action to mediation within 30 days after a response to the initial complaint unless an objection is filed. Further, the mediator assigned to the matter would then be required to facilitate communication between parties and assist them in reaching a settlement, narrow the issues of the case, define discovery parameters, and establish deadlines.

Joe Basta, who served as chair of the ADR Section in 2015-16 (and was succeeded by PREMi’s Sheldon Stark and Lee Hornberger respectively), appeared before committee members on behalf of the Section’s 900 members. “The bill would allow for mediation to occur very early in the process, which would streamline discovery and enable the parties to hone in on issues and discuss a resolution early in litigation,” Joe testified, adding that the Section is “supporting this bill because mediation, in our experience as mediators and as trial lawyers, is a faster, cheaper, fairer and more satisfactory method of dispute resolution than the alternatives.”

As Joe also noted for the committee, most mediations conclude in less than a day, taking place in informal, private, and confidential environments that place the parties in control of finding a suitable resolution. “There is a 75-percent settlement rate for mediation as opposed to about 20 percent for case evaluation,” he said.

The hearing was covered by Michigan Lawyers Weekly (subscription required), which published an article that also featured commentary from PREMi Executive Director Bill Weber. As Bill told the publication, “The way I always put it is that in mediation, you have win-win situations, and when you go to trial, when you go to just litigate, you got a winner and a loser. That’s a very big difference.”