Short Trials: An Appropriate Replacement for Compulsory Arbitration in Arizona?

For over four decades, the Arizona Legislature has required parties with small-dollar civil disputes to submit their disputes to compulsory arbitration before trial in Arizona’s Superior Court. Overall, compulsory arbitration has been successful in reducing the litigation costs of such cases and in resolving smaller disputes.

In 2015, the Arizona Supreme Court established the Committee on Civil Justice Reform. In one of its four categories of proposed reform, the Committee focused on compulsory arbitration. Rather than revise the existing rules to improve the compulsory-arbitration system, the Committee chose to propose a pilot program in Pima County, to begin in 2017. Under that program, a plaintiff could opt for a short trial, with modified pre-trial and trial rules, in lieu of compulsory arbitration. The Committee hopes that the pilot program will reverse the trend of the vanishing civil jury trial.

This Essay reviews the Committee’s work on compulsory arbitration and the proposal’s potential pitfalls, summarizes Arizona data regarding jury trials and compulsory arbitration, and suggests proposals to consider in future efforts to improve the compulsory-arbitration program.