ADR Legislation in Texas:
In 1983, the Texas Legislature passed an act (Senate Bill 10) to provide for the establishment and funding of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems in the State. This act, as amended, authorizes the imposition of a filing fee of up to $15 on all civil cases, except delinquent tax cases, filed in the county and district court system to be used to fund ADR programs. The authorization, amount of the filing fee, and the distribution of funds in a County are to be determined by the County Commissioner’s Court.
In 1987, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures Act (Senate Bill 1436) was passed by the Texas Legislature. This Act directs that all State courts, both trial and appellate, have the duty to carry out the State’s declared policy of encouraging the peaceful resolution of citizen disputes and the early settlement of pending litigation. The Act authorizes a Court, on the motion of either party, to refer a pending dispute to an alternative dispute resolution procedure, and directs the Court to confer with the parties about the proposed referral.
The Act prescribes minimum requirements for people qualifying for appointment as impartial third partied under the Act. The 40-hour mediator training requirement of the Texas ADR centers was adopted by the legislature as the standard training qualification. The Act also sets forth the standards and duties of the person appointed to facilitate the alternative dispute resolution procedure.
The Act assures the confidentiality of all communications made by a participate in any alternative dispute resolution procedure and provides that such communications may not be used as evidence against a participant in any judicial or administrative proceeding. But the Act also provides that, if communication or written material is otherwise discoverable, the fact that it was made part of the alternative dispute resolution procedure does not exclude it from discovery or admission as evidence. If the issue of confidentiality is raised in a court or if there is some legal requirement for disclosure (e.g. child abuse), the matter may be submitted in private to the Court.
The passage of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures Act (“ADR Act”) has resulted in a greater number of Court-referred cases to many of the centers in Texas. As the judiciary and the legal profession become even more aware of and knowledgeable about ADR, it can be expected that the number of Court-referred cases will increase. Generally, specific rules other than those set out in the Act will be set by the Court referring the case to ADR.
With the Texas ADR Act in mind, an exploratory committee was formed to assess the need for a Dispute Resolution Center in the Brazos Valley. This initial group consisted of representatives from political units, the justice system, social agencies, and individuals with one thing in common: their commitment to mediation as an alternative method for solving disputes.
This initial organizational committee elected a 9-member Board of Directors, and charged them with the organization of the Center. The Board of Directors established the Alternative Dispute Resolution Center- Central Brazos Valley, Inc. (“Brazos DRC”) in September 1996 (under the provisions of the Texas ADR Act). Shortly after, the Board of Directors hired an Executive Director to oversee the daily operations of the Center.
Today, the Brazos DRC still operates under the Texas ADR Act, the Texas Family Code, and the Texas Civil Procedures and Remedies Code. We have expanded the staff to include a full time Case Manager, but still function as a low cost/no cost mediation center with the mission of facilitating the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Many of our cases are Court-ordered from the surrounding District and County Courts. Other cases are referred to the DRC by attorneys or previous clients.