In February 2015, the NMI Judiciary’s Mandatory Rules of Alternative Dispute Resolution went into effect. The Rules require that all civil cases, except family law and small claims matters, go through a mediation process before regular litigation can commence. The rationale for these rules is to try to help litigants resolve their disputes outside of the courtroom, freeing up both the courts and the parties’ limited resources.
NMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro, the driving force behind the Rules of Mandatory Dispute Resolution, said: “Some cases filed with our court system do not need to go through the entire judicial process. Parties who rely on mediation early in a dispute often spend less time, money, and effort to resolve their problems, and, at the end, have greater satisfaction with the results. Equally important, mediation conforms more closely with the Chamorro and Refaluwasch norms and values of ‘ina komprendi yan ina famaolek.”
Due to a shortage of certified mediators in the Commonwealth, however, the full implementation of the Rules was delayed. To address this, the CNMI Supreme Court and the CNMI Bar Association held a two-day mediator certification course on Nov. 20 and 21, 2015. The seminar was the first training held in the Northern Marianas to allow an attorney to meet the requirements specified by the Rules and become a CNMI-certified mediator. While the seminar was not limited to CNMI Bar Association members, the majority of the attendees were attorneys admitted to practice in the Commonwealth.
The course was organized by former Superior Court associate judge Timothy H. Bellas, retired Utah visiting judge Steven Hansen, and CNMI Bar Association member Joe Iacopino. The course was held at the Guma Hustisia. Castro and Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman also attended the seminar in an observational capacity.
The Friday portion of the course consisted entirely of instructional presentations, while the Saturday session allowed the participants to observe a complete mock mediation. The instruction and the mediation demonstrations were conducted by Hansen, Iacopino, and Bellas.
In explaining the importance of the course, Bellas explained that “mediation has become an alternative to litigation around the world. Since the Judiciary has recently adopted rules making it mandatory for most civil cases, this training seminar was essential to fully implementing a system that is intended to not only conserve judicial resources but allow persons to resolve their cases without the need for expensive litigation.”
Hansen explained the importance of mediation by emphasizing that, “as a judge, mediation had a huge impact on my caseload, settling many cases that would have taken many days in trial.” The NMI Courts believe that with mandatory mediation now a rule, and with a newly trained pool of mediators, the benefits experienced in the Utah courts will now be experienced by the Commonwealth’s judges.
The course’s other instructor and member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules Committee, Iacopino, stated: “Over the past 30 years I have conducted hundreds of mediations as a mediator, and I have participated in hundreds of other mediations as a litigant’s counsel. As a result, I have become a firm believer in mediation as an effective and preferable alternative to the costs and hassles of litigation. It was an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure taking part in making mediation a more available alternative to litigation in the CNMI.”
With the completion of the course, the CNMI will soon have a group of certified mediators, and the Rules of Mandatory Rules of Alternative Dispute Resolution will be able to go into effect. Regular civil cases will now be referred to mandatory mediation before litigation fully commences. This new practice will help more cases settle out-of-court, thereby freeing up limited resources and minimizing the animosity that litigation creates. (NMI Judiciary)