Brooklyn becomes first borough to require mediation in civil cases

June 13, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Brooklyn Supreme Court ushered in a new project Thursday requiring all civil cases to pass through a mediation process before proceeding to trial. The first of its kind, the mandatory mediation project hopes to alleviate some the costs and other strains that civil litigation places on Brooklyn’s court system.

“Brooklyn has over 54,000 cases pending which is more than any other county in New York” Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Brooklyn Supreme Court administrative judge for civil matters, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Mandatory mediation will hopefully reduce to time and financial costs of a trial not only for the county but for the attorneys and parties involved.”

Typically, once all parties have requested and received evidence from either side, deposed witnesses and conducted necessary investigations, a note of issue is distributed, and the case is calendared for trial. Mandatory meditation, however, will apply after the discovery phase and prior to the calendaring of a trial date. The rationale, Knipel explained, is that once discovery is complete, the parties will have an opportunity to mediate the issues of the case in the hopes of reaching a settlement.

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This innovative attempt to reduce the time and costs involved in civil litigation is well received by Brooklyn attorneys, albeit with some reservation. “It is always a good idea to try to have mediation as soon as practicable,” said Gary Zucker , named partner at Zucker & Bennett, P.C. “Hopefully some of these cases that would otherwise back up the trial calendar can be settled quickly and efficiently.”

The first round of cases that will be affected by mandatory mediation consists of cases involving MTA New York City Transit, also known as the New York City Transit Authority. “We wanted to narrow to scope for the initial cases selected for the pilot program,” Knipel said. “There are about 10 to 12 Transit Authority cases a week, and we decided that that was a manageable number.”

“The success of the pilot program will depend on the Transit Authority,” Zucker noted. “The City of New York has an aggressive settlement policy. It will depend on whether or not the Transit Authority will approach cases in the same manner and make a concerted effort to settle.”  Zucker also noted that the mediators will also play a large role in the success of the program.
The mediators will be selected from a group of volunteers who will work without compensation. Former Supreme Court Justice Jules L. Spodek, father of current Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Ellen Spodek, will serve as the project’s first mediator.  “It is always better when all parties agree to settle,” noted Knipel.

 “I expect mandatory meditation to be effective in weeding out the trial backlog in Brooklyn Supreme Court,” said Knipel. He hopes to soon expand the mediation to include a wide variety of civil litigation cases.

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