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MEDIATING THE VENTURA WAY: Revisiting the Procedures of the Ventura Voluntary Ea

rly Civil Mediation Program


By Paul Bielaczyc
While the current version of the Ventura Voluntary Early Civil Mediation Program
is relatively new, ADR options became available in Ventura in the late 1980's.
The initial ADR program, which carried on through the 1990’s, was intended to i
mplement what is commonly known as a “multi-door” concept for pursuing litigatio
n. Cases were referred to arbitration by court order using panelists from the V
entura local bar, and early settlement sessions were also calendared. Mediation
was often times initiated by party election using mediators from the private se
ctor or court panels. This system remained in effect for many years until chang
es to the local rules were initiated a few years ago. The current Ventura Volun
tary Early Civil Mediation Program has been successful in achieving case resolut
ion.
The “Opt-In” Program
Under the direction of Superior Court Judge David Long, who handles the Mandator
y Settlement Conference calendar, along with assistance from the ADR committee,
Ventura’s local rules were changed to allow parties to select mediation. At the
time of the last defendant’s first appearance, the parties must specify on the
jointly-filed Voluntary Early Civil Mediation Program Questionnaire (VN-183) whe
ther they agree to “opt-in” or decline participation in mediation. Notably, cas
e value plays no role in deciding whether a case is eligible. Parties who agree
to participate may withdraw only upon the filing of an ex parte application and
order approved by the court.
For those cases where the parties agree to “opt-in,” all fast track deadlines an
d all discovery (other than that permitted by C.C.P. § 94) is stayed for a perio
d of 150 days from the date of the filing of all defendant’s answers. Meditatio
ns under this program shall be completed no later than 150 days from the last de
fendant’s first appearance, and the case must be at-issue before it can go to me
diation. Parties who fail to complete the mediation within the 150-day deadline
are subject to sanctions. Discovery motions are not expressly prohibited, and
local rules set the policy for resolution by the meet and confer process.
The Ventura court provides a two-tiered panel of mediators for the Voluntary Ear
ly Civil Mediation Program—pro bono and party pay. All of the pro bono and part
y pay mediators have agreed to mediate, at no charge, at least one case per cale
ndar quarter. Once this obligation is satisfied, party pay mediators can charge
no more than $150.00 per hour for any other case assignments during a calendar
quarter. All mediations in this program shall be least 3 hours long. Thereafte
r, the pro bono or party pay mediator is allowed to make fee arrangements with t
he parties. Additionally, the parties who “opt-in” may also select a mediator f
rom outside the court panels. However, the parties are still required to pay fo
r a mediator from outside the court panels and there is no hourly fee limit impo
sed.
It is imperative that parties promptly choose their mediator. Specifically, par
ties must report their mediator selection using the Voluntary Early Civil Report
(VN-184) no more than 25 days after filing the Voluntary Early Civil Mediation
Program Questionnaire (VN-183). Failing to file the Voluntary Early Civil Repor
t can void participation in the program. Where the parties have participated in
the program, however, and the case does not end in settlement, all restrictions
on discovery are removed. The MSC and Trial dates will be set at a post-mediat
ion Case Management Conference.
Cases Electing to Decline
In all other cases—namely, where the parties either neglected to answer the ques
tionnaire or chose to decline the early mediation program—the Ventura court will
consider an order to mediation or arbitration based upon the court’s review of
the Case Management Statements. The order to mediate or arbitrate will be made
simultaneously with the setting of the MSC and Trial date. These latter dates a
re 320 and 340 days, respectively, from the date that the complaint was initiall
y filed.
The court randomly assigns a mediator from the pro bono panel, selecting a date
and time based on the mediator’s previously disclosed availability. The mediato
r is expected to spend no more than 3 hours with the parties. If the mediation
has the potential for continuing, then the mediator is allowed to charge the par
ties upon terms and conditions as they may mutually agree. There is no limit pl
aced on discovery for cases that decline the early mediation program. The MSC r
emains on calendar in Dept. 22, pending the results of the mediation or arbitrat
ion.
Information for the Voluntary Early Civil Mediation Program is available on the
Ventura court’s website. Procedural guidelines are explained, and you can revie
w biographical information for the pro bono and party pay panel mediators. Form
s are also available to ensure compliance with the local rules. Questions may b
e directed to Julie Camacho, the Ventura Civil Mediation Program Manager, by cal
ling (805) 654-2609.
____________________________________________________________
Paul Bielaczyc is an Attorney, an Arbitrator and a Mediator focusing his ADR eff
orts on all areas of general civil litigation. He is an approved panelist for th
e Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Superior Court Mediation programs.
You may call Tri-County Mediation at (805) 565-8725 for more information or to v
iew the profile of Mr. Bielaczyc, go on-line to http://www.tricomediate.com or b
y going to the Santa Barbara County Superior Court CADRe website at http://www.s
bcadre.org/bielaczyc.htm.