Effective January 2, 2019, the Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut has formally entered the world of virtual mediation with the introduction of a pilot in the Judicial Districts of Hartford and New Haven to help resolve contract collection cases.  More accurately, it has entered the world of Online Dispute Resolution (“ODR”).  ODR started in the mid-1990s to primarily address e-commerce disputes.  Its potential universality has gained popularity ever since. It is viewed as an inexpensive, user friendly methodology to resolve mostly contract disputes.  Sponsors of an ODR platform, such as the Connecticut Judicial Branch, have latched onto the process and conformed it to the identified needs.

It would be erroneous to consider the new Connecticut ODR strictly as an online mediation service.  It is that and more.  It is a combined mediation and arbitration process.  It contemplates a three-step process:

Step One:  Agreement by all parties to participate

Step Two:  Submission by all parties of claims, defenses and documentary evidence to support these positions

Step Three:  Resolution by the parties facilitated by a designated court mediator; however, if a resolution of the dispute cannot be reached, a different judicial authority will take the written submissions along with any evidence submitted during the mediation process and decide the case

The Judicial Branch has taken a bold step in increasing access to the courts for those with disputes that might not warrant the time and expenses of a formal lawsuit.  The branch has also displayed an understanding of the “med-arb” process where a matter can start as a mediation and conclude with a third party making the decision because the parties were unable to resolve the dispute.  Normally the “med-arb” process raises difficult ethical concerns when the same third party who attempts to mediate a dispute is tasked with being the final decision maker.  The Branch has eliminated these concerns by designating different judicial resources when providing mediation services as opposed to adjudicative services.

For more information, go to the State of Connecticut Judicial website, www.jud.ct.gov , and forms JD-CV-165 (New 12-18), JD-CV-166 (New 12-18), JD-167 (New 12-18), JD-CV-168 (New 12-18) and JD-CV-169 (New 12-18).