The Fifth Judicial Circuit of Florida (which includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter Counties) offers the following general rules for mediation:*
- Mediation is a supervised settlement conference presided over by a neutral mediator who suggests alternatives, analyzes issues, questions perceptions, uses logic, conducts private meetings with attorneys and their clients, stimulates negotiations between opposing sides, and keeps order. The mediator does NOT hear any testimony, review any evidence or make a decision. The only result of the Mediation Conference is the agreement, or non-agreement, of the parties. This is not an arbitration procedure.
- The appearance of counsel who will try the case, and their clients (a management representative if a corporate party) with full authority to enter into a full and complete compromise and settlement is mandatory. An insured party must have a fully authorized representative (not the attorney) of the insurance company attend the mediation conference.
- The Court has the power to impose sanctions on all parties who do not attend the conference. The participants shall be prepared to spend as much time as is necessary to settle the case, or until an impasse is declared by the mediator. All discussions, representations and statements made at the mediation conference shall be privileged as settlement negotiations, and nothing related to the conference shall be admitted as testimony at trial or subject to discovery procedures.
- The parties shall each present a brief written summary of the facts and issues to the mediator ten (10) days prior to the conference. Counsel for corporate parties will state the name and general job description of the employee or agent who will attend and represent the corporate party. The summaries need not be served on opposing counsel or filed in the court file.
- The mediator shall be served with a copy of any papers regarding the referred case.
- If any party objects to the mediation, such party shall file an objection to the Order of Referral not later than fifteen (15) days from the date of the said order. The absence of timely filed objections shall constitute consent to the mediation; and failure to comply may be grounds for sanctions.
- The attorney for the Plaintiff is designated to schedule and coordinate the mediation conference. In the event it becomes impossible for a participant to attend the scheduled conference, coordination for rescheduling shall be done through Plaintiff’s counsel with the mediator, and the presiding judge and the Judicial Office Manager shall be advised of the new date. A mediation conference will NOT be canceled without being immediately rescheduled to a new date, except by Court Order. Plaintiff’s counsel is responsible for immediately notifying the mediator’s office if the case is settled prior to the scheduled conference.
- The parties are required to remain in the mediation conference until the dispute is resolved or until the mediator declares an impasse.
- The mediator shall not testify or otherwise disclose any statements, occurrences or observations arising out of the mediation conference except by express agreement of all parties. This paragraph shall NOT apply to litigation to enforce an agreement reached by the parties in the course of the mediation wherein the existence, meaning or content of such agreement is in issue.
- The mediation shall not delay or toll any time period, discovery, hearing, trial or other activity in this case specifically provided for by statute or rule.
- Each party and their attorney shall appear personally at the mediation conference. Mediation shall be held at a location mutually agreeable to the parties. In the event the parties cannot agree on a location, mediation shall be held at the Hernando County Courthouse in a location to be scheduled through the office of the Judicial Office Manager.
- The compensation for the mediator shall be $150.00 per hour, unless a different amount is agreed upon by all parties, or unless a different amount is ordered by the court. The mediator’s fee shall be borne by the parties equally and attorneys shall ensure prompt payment of same, preferably at the time mediation occurs. Failure to promptly pay mediator fees may subject the parties to appropriate sanctions. The mediator may charge the parties a minimum fee based upon one hour of the mediator’s services for each conference which lasts less than one hour; and any conference which lasts beyond one hour shall be calculated in quarter hour increments. If the matter has settled, the parties must contact the mediator at least 48 hours prior to mediation or the parties will be responsible for the payment of the minimum fee.
*Please note that mediation rules, including fees, may differ from circuit to circuit, county to county, and even divisions (such as family law or general civil litigation) within the same county.