Monday, October 09, 2006

PA Superior Court Announces New Appellate Mediation Program

On October 6, 2006, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts issued a press release entitled "Superior Court of Pennsylvania Establishes Appellate Mediation Program". The new Appellate Mediation Program is intended "to provide litigants with a prompt, effective, alternative means of creatively resolving disputes without many of the expenses associated with litigation."

Since the PA Superior Court reviews & decides appeals taken from rulings of the Orphans' Court Divisions of the various courts of common pleas in the Commonwealth, it appears that this appellate mediation program will apply to all appealled matters inititated in that Division under Sections 711 and 712 of the Probate, Estates & Fiduciaries Code once it is fully developed.

However, I cannot yet find on the website of the AOPC a proposed court rule that would implement this new Program, which is described only in the Press Release, as follows:

The program initially will apply to civil appeals from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The mediation process will occur on a fast-track basis during the pre-briefing stage of appeal.

With the implementation of this program, Superior Court joins numerous federal and state courts that have adopted mediation programs as successful tools for case management. Superior Court, one of the busiest appellate courts in the nation, is projected to docket more than 8,200 new appeals in 2006, an increase of about 3.5 % from the number docketed in 2005.

Superior Court is working with fewer judges this year due to the retirement of four of its members in the past year. The creation of this mediation program will enable the court to better manage its increasing caseload as well as provide a savings to litigants in terms of costs and time on appeal.

The Press Release also announced the appointment of P. Douglas Sisk as the first director of the new Program, saying he is "an experienced attorney with extensive appellate and mediation experience, [who] has developed a similar program for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit." As the program director for the Superior Court, Sisk will select and mediate Superior Court appeals that are appropriate for alternate dispute resolution.

The model for the PA Superior Court's Appellate Mediation Program appears to be the "United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals Appellate Mediation Program", which is described online
here. The descriptive materials posted online about that federal court program include "Frequently Asked Questions", Court Rules, and Forms. That program is generally described as follows:

The Third Circuit's Appellate Mediation Program conducts confidential mediation conferences pursuant to Rule 33 of the Federal rules of Appellate procedure and Third Circuit Local Rule LAR 33. The main purpose of the Mediation Program is to help parties amicably resolve the dispute which is the subject of the appeal before the court.

Most appeals are eligible for mediation. Each year, the program conducts mediations in hundreds of cases and helps the parties amicably resolve many cases. The mediations are conducted by the program's director, assistant director, and by senior circuit and district court judges.

The complete AOPC Press Release regarding the new Superior Court Appellate Mediation Program can be found online here.

Update on 11/03/06:

I came across an excellent article by P. Douglas Sisk, Esq., regarding a trap for the unwary in Commonwealth appellate practice. The article, entitled "What You Don't Know Can Hurt Your Client And You", is found here. It speaks well for qualifications of the first director of the new Program, showing that he is, indeed, "an experienced attorney with extensive appellate and mediation experience". Here is the summary of his article:

Two recent opinions of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania highlight the importance of strict compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. Among the numerous and arcane facets of appellate advocacy, the failure to comply with an apparently innocuous rule may be fatal to an appeal filed by an advocate unused to appellate litigation. The opinions also exemplify a trend among the appellate courts, both state and federal, to require strict compliance with the court rules. The Pennsylvania Superior Courts opinions in Jones v. Jones, 878 A.2d 86 (Pa.Super. 2005), and Forest Highlands Community Association v. Hammer, 879 A.2d 223 (Pa. Super. 2005), illustrate the need for strict compliance with the Rules.