More now than ever, our clients want a means to resolve their dispute without the necessity of having Trial counsel fully retained for an expensive Trial that our clients may not be able to afford with very little assets and houses that are upside-down.  There has to be another way to resolve a dispute since money does not grow on trees in the Silver State.  There is an answer:  The Senior Judge Settlement Conference. 

Senior Judge Settlement Conferences In Nevada

The Supreme Court of Nevada has recognized the need for the Settlement Conference Program whereas a Senior Judge will preside over the matter, typically in a “roundtable” session as common down in the Eighth Judicial District in a conference room at Court and far away from the actual adversarial court room.  It is prudent to contact the applicable department to see how one goes about getting one of these Settlement Conferences arranged but even at oral argument, the Court can make the judgment call if the case is appropriate for a settlement conference.  More times than not, it is, especially when there are no custody issues, which is always a hot-topic for debate.  Even in cases that I did have in front of the Senior Judges, we never want to bargain children for support or a certain outcome for asset distribution.  The Senior Judges that are paid by the Supreme Court to take part of this program know the games that some attorneys play and maintain dignity and decorum in the proceedings. 

Additionally, sometimes my client may be out of line with a position but when the Settlement Judge separates the Parties, it can then be known whether an argument will hold water or whether it is just full of hot air.  I’d rather know that sooner than have the Trial judge make the finding or conclusion adverse to my client anyways.  However, a knowledgeable Senior Judge that chimes in his or her 2 cents is valuable insight and is sometimes that wakeup call that our clients need without breaking the bank.     

I can honestly say that my success rate with this program is over 90% with many of the Senior Judges involved in this program.  I routinely request settlement conferences either as a claim for a relief in a pleading or filing a motion for a settlement conference as the only claim for relief. 

Even in cases where we have difficulty getting on the same page with opposing counsel (e.g. return your phone calls and timely correspondence to opposing counsel in writing), this requires the attorneys to actual work a case (sometimes an archaic concept) and I have settled several cases on the day of the motion for a settlement conference in the hallway and the matter was proven up on the record.  CASE OVER.  Sometimes just the thought of knowing the case is done is enough for client to be happy their case is over (at least for now) and then their stress level is reduced.  After the hearing, I typically like to run a client bill since at the direction of respected attorney in the south Edward Kainen, happy client’s pay their bill.  The longer the attorney waits to send the bill after the settlement conference, perhaps there is a correlations of the client de-valuing the attorney work and make it more likely that they will not pay their attorney for legal services rendered. 

By settling the case in either the hallway or a few days before the actual hearing, that is even the best possible outcome:  Requesting a settlement conference and then the attorneys settle the case anyways on terms that the clients can live with.  Family law practitioners must not forget that this is a legitimate option with the goal of reducing the caseload of the departments we practice in front of.  Our clients rely on their counsel to not only hear the dispute but to have options of resolution.  Trial is not the only way and private mediation can be selected or take advantage of the Senior Judge Settlement Conference.    

There is statutory authority on point for settlement conferences found in NRS 3.225 (encourage resolution through non-adversarial methods) and NRCP 16(a)(5) (pre-trial conferences as a means to settle cases).  I cite both as authority for the Court to set the settlement conferences since it can be worded that the Parties basically desire an equal distribution of assets/debts however the Parties just do not agree with what is “equal.”  The Settlement Conference is to be used to sort of bridge that gap to resolve disputes.   

The recession that Nevadans are experiences has hurt everyone financially and nothing is worse than at the end of the month where we have to file motions to withdraw and reduce outstanding legal fees to judgment.  I like to practice family law and not debt collector law from clients.  However, recognizing that is some cases, our clients just want to be heard in at least a non-adversarial/mediation setting and now that the Supreme Court has allotted funds for the Senior Judges to hear such settlement conferences, the responsible practitioner will take advantage of these opportunities as these funds are available.       

 


Jason Stoffel is a family law practitioner in private practice since 2004.  He is employed by Roberts Stoffel Family Law Group , a Las Vegas, Nevada family law firm.