Virginia's Judicial System

Home > Court Administration > Office of the Executive Secretary > Judicial Services > Dispute Resolution Services > Judicial Settlement Conference Program > Frequently Asked Questions About the Judicial Settlement Conference Program

Frequently Asked Questions About the Judicial Settlement Conference Program

What is a judicial settlement conference?

A judicial settlement conference is an informal process in which a retired circuit court judge, trained in mediation and settlement conference skills, actively facilitates a process whereby parties in conflict may reach a mutually satisfactory resolution.

How much does it cost to participate in the Judicial Settlement Conference Program?

Settlement conference services are available to all circuit courts at no cost to the parties.

Why have a Judicial Settlement Conference Program?

Settlement conference judges, who have a wealth of legal experience and subject matter expertise, can offer attorneys and their clients valuable case evaluations and neutral settlement assistance.

Settlement conference judges may provide an independent assessment of the risks of litigation.

The Judicial Settlement Conference Program facilitates the settlement of cases that would otherwise result in costly and lengthy trials.

When may a judicial settlement conference be useful?

Parties may be motivated to settle due to time constraints, expenses, or other factors.

Parties wish to have a neutral evaluation of their case in a private setting or wish to undergo a legal and factual “reality testing” by the settlement judge.

Parties differ substantially in their opinions on the value of the case and/or on the amount of damages that should be awarded.

What kinds of cases are appropriate for the Judicial Settlement Conference Program?

Settlement conference may be used for any civil case filed in court.

The program may be used with a variety of case categories, including but not limited to: tort/personal injury, commercial, domestic relations, etc.

Settlement conference may be most useful in cases where the parties have not completely explored settlement options and are unlikely to do so without the assistance of a neutral party.

What happens during a judicial settlement conference?

  • Involvement of Litigants and Their Lawyers:  Lawyers and parties on all sides are encouraged to be active participants.  By their presence at the settlement conference, lawyers and parties are deemed to be making a good faith effort at resolving the case in controversy.
  • Collaborative Session:  The settlement conference judge may allow an opportunity for both parties to be heard and may use other conflict resolution techniques that are characteristic of mediation.  There may be an initial session in which all parties are in the same room.  Often the parties segregate immediately after the initial session and do not directly interact.  The settlement judge may elect to reconvene the parties later in the process.
  • Urging Settlement:  The settlement conference judge may use a variety of techniques to encourage and shape settlement, including suggesting settlement terms, providing settlement ranges, and directing the parties to appropriate grounds for settlement based on law or industry practice.
  • Case Evaluation within the Separate Caucus:  The settlement conference judge may meet privately with each side of the case and point out strengths, weaknesses, and potential problems that the party may not have considered regarding their case.  Everything said in a private caucus is confidential, except for what the party in the caucus room authorizes the settlement judge to communicate to a party in the other caucus room.
  • Independent Perspective:  The settlement conference judge may provide the parties with an independent perspective regarding the outcome of the case.

How much settlement authority do the judicial settlement conference judges have?

Settlement conference judges have no trial authority with regard to a given case, but merely assist the parties in assessing their case and possibly reaching settlement.

Is the Judicial Settlement Conference Program voluntary?

Once a judge refers parties to the program, the parties are required to attend the conference; however, they do not have to settle.  If the dispute is not resolved by the conference prior to the parties’ trial date, the parties shall appear in court at the appointed time.

Is the Judicial Settlement Conference Program confidential?

Yes.  Nothing said during the settlement conference and nothing prepared for the settlement conference is deemed admissible evidence at trial, unless the statement or document is independently admissible.  Furthermore, the settlement conference judge maintains confidentiality with respect to the settlement conference proceedings and only reports to the referring court the terms of the agreement, if authorized by the parties, or the fact that no agreement was reached.

What are the Judicial Settlement Conference Program Procedures?