Justice of the Peace Court launches online mediation portal

Information on the Justice of the Peace Court Online Dispute Resolution portal is available online courts.delaware.gov/jpcourt/odr.aspx. (Submitted photo/State of Delaware)

WILMINGTON — The arrival of a new pathway to resolve disputes without entering a courthouse was well-timed, Justice of the Peace Court Chief Magistrate Alan Davis said this week.

Launched on Nov. 2, the Online Dispute Resolution system allows landlords, tenants and mediators to connect virtually to begin the process of settling their matters.

According to officials, the system can better address the demand of a backlog of cases arising during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and allow persons an opportunity to avoid the health risk of entering a courthouse.

Chief Magistrate Davis said plans for the system had been in the works pre-coronavirus.

Landlord-tenant cases filed on or after July 1 this year must use the system before a judge will hear a case, the Court said.

Delayed eviction cases during various moratoriums are part of the backlog, the Court said.

The process does not happen in real time as parties review and respond to messages at their pace, the Court said. Documents and evidence can be uploaded.

Once linked, involved parties can exchange messages through a system the Court described as secure in an attempt to reach compromise or resolution. If a deal is agreed upon, it can be officially registered through an electronically signed message sent to the Court, which determines it will be accepted.

A mediator will enter the discussion online if a compromise or resolution can’t be reached, according to the Court. Minus a resolution, the matter will go to trial before a judge.

The mediators are trained third parties, JP Court judges and members of the Delaware Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution section. Involved judges will not take part if a case moves forward to court.

Mediators will not give legal advice. Legal assistance options are availble online at declasi.org.

Conversations are considered private and can’t be introduced at trial except in rare case such as threatening harm to another person, the Court said. Mediators can’t be a witness at trial or their notes subpoenaed in a court case, according to the Court.

Parties may speak one on one alone with a mediator without the other participant’s involvement.

There is currently no cost for using ODR or a mediator, the Court said. The eventual goal is to begin all civil court cases (approximately 35,000 annually) with the process, the Court said.

“The messages between the parties and between the parties and the mediator are confidential and not available to the trial judge, the same way that discussions or negotiation in mediation in other courts are not presented to the judge if mediation fails and the matter goes to trial,” according to a news release.

Eviction cases may be entered, based on ongoing state and federal guidelines, the Court said.

Eligibility requirements to use the service include:

• Have received a notice from the Delaware Justice of the Peace Court that you are required to participate in Online Dispute Resolution.

• Have an active civil case filing number from the court.

• Have an active email address and access to the internet.

• Be at least 18 years of age.

According to Court, the ODR works with any device (computer, tablet or mobile) with web access (Internet or cell-phone connectivity). ODR supports the latest browser versions of Chrome, Safari, IE/Edge and Firefox.

Following the landlord-tenant focus, ODR cases will soon expand to debt matters, the Court said.

If registration errors are detected, call JP Court 674-7090 or email JPmeDEation@delaware.gov court.

More information is available online at www.courts.delaware.gov/jpcourt/odr.aspx.