The Department of the Interior's ("DOI") Early Case Assessment Pilot Program is a collaborative effort within the DOI through the Atlanta Regional Solicitor's Office in conjunction with the Agencies that comprise the DOI. This program has been developed to provide a vehicle for the DOI to proactively reduce the volume and cycle time associated with disputes, claims and related litigation, while at the same time increasing the ability to achieve resolutions that meet the needs of all stakeholders. This program has also been designed to assist managers in earlier case evaluation and settlement efforts during the first sixty to ninety days in matters selected for the Program. It is the DOI's view that all stakeholders can benefit from this expedited assessment, especially when it leads to fair and earlier resolution of the matters referred into the Program.
The primary objective of the DOI's Early Case Assessment Pilot Program is to enable the Atlanta Regional Solicitor's Office to provide the client agencies it serves, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) when necessary, with key factual, legal and "next step" information to enable them to make informed decisions regarding pending disputes. The use of a systematic and pre-determined process to evaluate disputes produces a more efficient and cost-effective method for dealing with disputes and, it is hoped, will serve as a model for use by all Solicitors' offices throughout the county. Additional benefits of the process include improved communication between attorneys, their clients and other stakeholders, as well as the ability to identify claim and litigation trends that will assist the client agencies in preventing future disputes.
The Pilot Program will provide the opportunity to prioritize and focus initial information gathering in order to develop realistic case strategies aligned with policy goals in the areas of: Contracts, ESA Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Matters, Habitat Conservation Plans, Natural Resource Damages, Land Use Issues, Torts, and any other matters deemed appropriate for inclusion into the Program as determined by the Solicitor's Office. The program provides for the collection, analysis and assessment of several data elements in each area referenced to ensure that a comprehensive package of information is reviewed prior to finalizing a resolution strategy. Managers fulfilling the program's responsibilities are expected to be trained in and to utilize appropriate consultation, cooperation and communication skills to effectuate the early resolution of matters when the assessment of available data indicates that a given matter may be appropriate for early resolution efforts.
For the Early Case Assessment process to work effectively (and to minimize expense for all parties), it is typically necessary for the parties to cooperate in (a) postponing relevant court and other deadlines (if applicable) when possible; (b) preserving confidentiality when possible; (c) exchanging relevant information; and (d) scheduling negotiations or other ADR processes, possibly including mediation, agreed to by the parties. However, unless the matter has been resolved in the interim, once the timeframe pre-determined by the Early Case Assessment Team has elapsed (usually sixty to ninety days from the start of the early case assessment), the matter then proceeds through the litigation process, which often includes the participation of litigation counsel at the DOJ. The Early Case Assessment process is designed to minimize any delays to litigation or other formal dispute resolution processes.
It is a primary goal of the program to emphasize a focus on collaborative problem-solving. By allowing the parties to learn as much about the dispute as possible, it is hoped that the parties can strive to avoid the defensive posture that develops in traditional litigation. Through candor and cooperation, all parties can realize the benefits of interest-based problem solving leading to an optimum and collaborative resolution.
The pilot program is being designed and implemented with the assistance of the ADR & Conflict Management Services Group of Paquin, Victor & Sanchez LLP, an Atlanta-based, women and minority-owned, specialty law firm.