SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Courts system is pushing online services as an alternative to going before a judge.
In his annual remarks to the Utah State Legislature, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant highlighted a new program. Online Dispute Resolution is an alternative to small claims court.
Under the program, Chief Justice Durrant said, plaintiffs and defendants can trade offers and counter-offers with a mediator online.
“This negotiation is asynchronous, meaning it does not require the parties to
address the matter at the same time. For instance, one party may communicate a
position at the start of the day, while the other party is at work. Later, the other party can respond at a time that is more convenient for him or her. This back and forth
exchange of information and ideas can continue over the course of several days, rather
than in those stressful minutes just before a court hearing or in front of the judge,” he said.
If both sides can reach agreement, a computer-generated agreement is created. If they don’t, they can still go before a judge.
“The benefits of this flexible approach are obvious. Simply put, many people never engage in the litigation process, because it requires them to take time off work, go
to what they often see as a strange and intimidating courthouse, and to interact with an
adversarial party face-to-face. ODR provides them a convenient, quicker, and less
stressful way to engage in the judicial process,” Chief Justice Durrant said.
The program has been running in West Valley City Justice Court, where more than 600 people have participated since it launched in September.
It’s not the only issue to provide access to the courts for people. Faced with a number of people representing themselves, Chief Justice Durrant said they are pushing “licensed paralegal practitioners” (similar to a nurse practitioner). They would help people with things like evictions, debt collections and other minor court matters.
The Chief Justice also urged lawmakers to take another look at funding more judges and increasing the salaries of existing judges and court staff in order to retain them.