Cook County Circuit Court, Law Division, Launches Mandatory Arbitration Program

At the beginning of January 2015, the Law Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., will begin its new mandatory arbitration program for certain cases. The program is targeted for cases that have value of less than $75,000. In order to file and hear a case in Law Division, the value of the matter must exceed $50,000.

The eligibility categories of cases that will be involved in the mandatory arbitration program include breach of contract, employment disputes, including discrimination, whistleblowing cases, civil or commercial fraud or conspiracy, business interference and shareholder disputes.

The program gained approval by the Illinois Supreme Court, and then the Circuit Court Judges voted to adopt the new local rule in December 2014. The presiding judge of the Law Division is Judge James T. Flannery Jr., who said that judges would begin referring cases at the start of 2015. Arbitration sessions will begin in April or May 2015.

Assigned to supervise the new program is Judge Thomas R. Mulory Jr. Judge Mulory had indicated that about 3,600 new cases are added to the commercial calendar each year of which 10% will qualify for the new mandatory arbitration program.

One assigned arbitrator will hear each case subject to a conflict-of-interest review. The lawyers who are chosen to become arbitrators must have experience in commercial law and at least 7 years of legal experience. The arbitrators also could include retired judges. All of the arbitrators must complete a training seminar offered by the Chicago Bar Association. More than 40 lawyers have already applied to become arbitrators.

The way the process works is once the case is filed and a defendant files an answer to the complaint, a commercial-calendar judge will assess the amount of damages to decide whether the case is fit for mandatory arbitration. The hearings will take place at the Cook County Mandatory Arbitration Center on the 13th Floor at 222 N. LaSalle St., which is already the site of the arbitration hearings for the First Municipal District.

The arbitration hearings will be scheduled 150 days after the court’s referral. For the first 120 days, the case will remain in court and the parties are allowed to continue discovery or enter into settlement agreements. No more than 2 days after the hearing, the arbitrator will issue an award. Either party may reject the award within 7 days and have the case returned to the court call.

However, the rejection fee is $750, whereas the First Municipal District rejection fee is $200. In addition to the rejection fee of $750, the rejecting party must pay its opponent’s legal fees incurred during the arbitration process if the trial doesn’t obtain a better result. That process will obviously inspire lawyers to resolve their cases either before or after the arbitration itself. The idea behind this is to expedite cases of smaller case value and to reach final disposition without excessive attorney fees and costs. The program should be a benefit to clients and attorneys seeking swift justice in a reasonable span of time and a reasonable amount of attorney fees and costs expended.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handing commercial litigation matters, arbitrations and mediations for individuals, families and businesses for more than 38 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Logan Square, Wicker Park, Hegewisch, Roscoe Village, Old Town Triangle, Pill Hill, Pilsen, Printer’s Row, Ravenswood Gardens, Rogers Park), Palatine, Oak Park, Morton Grove, Lockport, Lake Forest, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Kenilworth, and Evanston, Ill.

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