Avital Mentovich, a Professor at the University of Haifa’s School of Criminology, J.J. Prescott, the Henry King Ransom Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, and Orna Rabinovich-Einy, an Associate Professor on the Law Faculty at the University of Haifa, will receive the Hugh L. Carey Center’s 2021 Dispute Resolution Advancement Award for the research reported in their paper, “Are Litigation Outcome Disparities Inevitable? Courts,Technology, and the Future of Impartiality.”
The $5000 annual award recognizes scholars whose published empirical research has furthered the advancement and understanding of the values and skills of dispute resolution. This year’s award recognizes the three academics for their look at how technology—particularly online dispute resolution (ODR)—can eliminate outcome disparities in legal proceedings and expand access to justice.
This year’s Award winners bring an interdisciplinary perspective to their analysis and comparison of outcome disparities in online and in-person civil-infraction cases. Their paper looks at how ODR might reduce disparities caused by group-based biases related to age, gender, and race. The researchers sampled 5,232 Michigan traffic violation cases: 2,713 in-person hearings and 2,519 online hearings. The study was designed to examine whether ODR blinds judicial bias and whether the structure of the ODR process itself limits the judicial process discretion that increases the likelihood of decision-maker bias.
The research suggests that two of the group-based factors, age and race, yield less disparate outcomes when hearings are conducted using ODR. In the age-based comparison, younger drivers appear to pay notably higher fines than older drivers pursuant to in-person hearings. But when hearings are held online, this disparity in outcomes between younger and older drivers seems to evaporate. Considering race, the researchers find substantial evidence, after controlling for observable differences between cases, that Black litigants receive higher court fines and are less likely to receive charge reductions after in-person hearings. These racially disparate outcomes disappear when Black litigants resolve their cases through ODR. The researchers conclude that, under particular design schemes in certain contexts, ODR is capable of producing significantly fairer outcomes for members of disempowered groups.
The award-winning research, which is part of a broader study of various empirical aspects of ODR, has been presented widely in academic circles and to designers of online court systems. It is informing policymaker debates over ODR as the public health crisis continues to push online judicial procedures to the frontlines of dispute resolution and into public awareness and discourse.
Considering this year’s Dispute Resolution Advancement Award nominations and submissions, the award selection committee comprised of Elayne E. Greenberg, Assistant Dean for Dispute Resolution Programs, Professor of Legal Practice, and Director of the Carey Center, and St. John’s Law Professors Keith Sharfman, Jeff Sovern, and Ettie Ward recognized their current paper as reflecting Professors Mentovich’s, Prescott’s, and Rabinovich-Einy’s outstanding scholarship in the field.
Research considered for the Award has broad applicability to the alternate dispute resolution field, or focuses on the values and application of dispute resolution in a specific area. Interdisciplinary research is encouraged, and the findings should be published in a nationally respected journal within a specified period. In assessing a candidate, the selection committee also considers:
“What an important contribution to mitigate systemic, group-based litigation outcome disparities,” Professor Greenberg says. “This compelling research also encourages court administrators and justice reformers to consider the broader swath of cases that might be appropriate for ODR. It’s worth noting that ‘blind’ judging was a central ODR design choice. An unanswered challenge going forward is how to reconcile that design choice with the growing public demand to spotlight, not blind, the faces and humanity of the many Black defendants who have been, and continue to be, victims of systemic racial injustice.”
The three winners will accept the Dispute Resolution Award at a virtual presentation ceremony hosted by St. John’s Law on Monday, April 12, 2021. Please register online to attend.