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The court must first refer your lawsuit to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program. Small Claims and Civil cases claiming monetary damages under $10,000 are referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution by the Justice of the Peace. Superior Court cases appropriate for arbitration are screened and sent to ADR from the Clerk of the Superior Court. ADR Program staff will then assign an Arbitrator to hear the case.
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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a term that includes a variety of methods used to resolve conflicts and disputes between people without going to trial. Arbitration and mediation are two such techniques that can be helpful, and Juvenile Victim-Offender Conferencing (JVOC) is another. In all cases, trained volunteers are assigned to help litigants settle their civil, small claims, or juvenile court issues without the need for a trial.
To file a small claims or civil lawsuit in Justice Court, fill out a Complaint, Summons, Answer Form and take it to the Justice Court in which the incident occurred or in which one or both of the parties reside. Then file the claim to receive a case number for the action. If your claim is for damages in excess of $10,000, the process is very similar, except that you would file the claim at the Superior Court, instead.
Most cases referred by the Justice Court begin as arbitrations. However, if the parties appear to be cooperative with each other, are willing to work together, and it appears that an agreement is very likely, the arbitrator can convert the arbitration session to mediation and help the litigants draft a mediated agreement that is mutually acceptable.
Justice Court arbitrations and mediations are typically scheduled to last an hour and a half. That amount of time is usually sufficient to allow each side to present their case or defense, identify and question witnesses, and offer closing statements. Each litigant should be prepared to complete the presentation of their case in 35 minutes or less. Cochise County Local Rules do, however, allow parties to request an extension of that time, upon written notice received by the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Office not less than ten days from the date of the Notice of Hearing. Refer to Rule 12.2(G)(4) for additional details.
Arbitration sessions are open to the public as are most court proceedings. Mediations, however, are private and confidential and are not open to the public. If an arbitration hearing is converted to mediation with the consent of the parties, only the litigants will be allowed to remain in the hearing room.
You may consult with a lawyer if you wish; however, it is not a requirement to hire an attorney or to have him or her be at your side to represent you during the hearing. Attorneys are not permitted to participate in small claims cases. If you have a Small Claims case, a case in which the total monetary damages are less than $2,500, and wish to hire an attorney to represent you, your attorney must file a Notice of Appearance and transfer the case to the Civil division of the Justice Court, instead.
You should be prepared to present your case in full as though you were appearing before the Judge. Please refer to the back of your Notification to Parties form (a yellow copy which you signed) for additional information. However, before the hearing you should have:
Bring your witnesses and all of your evidentiary materials to the arbitration hearing.
Yes, please check the back of your Notification to Parties form for additional information (it is usually a yellow piece of paper that you signed when you filed the complaint or answered the claim). Please note that your witnesses may be asked to wait outside the hearing until they are called to testify.
If the plaintiff fails to show up and has given no valid reason for his or her absence, oftentimes the arbitrator will recommend the case be dismissed. If the defendant filed a counterclaim against this plaintiff, the arbitrator will likely hear the counterclaim in the plaintiff's absence and make a decision on the counterclaim based on the case presented by the defendant.
If the defendant doesn't show up, and no valid reason is given for his/her absence, the arbitrator will hear the plaintiff's claim and make a decision based on the plaintiff's evidence in the defendant's absence. If there was a counterclaim by the defendant, but the defendant wasn't there to present that case, the counterclaim will likely be dismissed.
Not necessarily. All of our Justice Court arbitrators are volunteers that have been trained to the standards of Cochise County Superior Court's Alternative Dispute Resolution Program. They have been certified and appointed by the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court. Many of them have had years of experience with this Program and have heard all sorts of cases. Arbitrators in Superior Court cases must, by law, be attorneys with a minimum of four years of active membership in the State Bar of Arizona.
No. Because mediated agreements are essentially new contracts between you and the other party rather than a judgment issued by the court, they cannot be appealed.
A failure to comply with the terms set out in your mediated agreement would essentially be a breach of a separate contract and may be subject to further legal action.
Yes, if you believe the arbitrator has made an error on a point of law in a small claims or civil case, you may request the Justice Court review the case. Arbitration awards may be appealed.
A copy of the arbitrator's written Notice of Decision will be mailed to each party. If neither party appeals within twenty (20) days, the arbitrator's decision will become a judgment of the court. After you received your copy of the judgment, you must make a written demand of the other party to pay the judgment amount. If they do not pay, at your request the court can provide you with the forms you may file to try to collect.
If the other party does not make full payment, you may file a request to have a writ issued. If these writs are not effective in collecting the judgment, obtaining the services of an attorney may be helpful. Please note that it is not the responsibility of the court to enforce or collect the judgment. Court staff cannot offer you legal advice but can suggest several alternative methods of procedure you may wish to follow. You may also research the laws yourself or consult an attorney.
Once the judgment has been entered, it is up to you to pay the other party. You may send payment directly to the person or entity that prevailed in arbitration, but be sure to obtain or retain proof of payment. Do not make payment to the Court. The Court does not collect money owed, or distribute payments to any party. The prevailing party should send a written demand for payment indicating the judgment amount and how to make payment. It is then your responsibility to pay the debt. Failure to do so may result in garnishment or other negative consequences.