The Annual Report to the Community from the Minnesota Judicial Branch, submitted by Chief Justice Lori Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court, was released a few weeks ago. This annual report provides an update to Minnesota citizens about the business of the Minnesota judiciary.

The report also contains some important information that every attorney should know in representing parties in business and employment mediation: this report shows how infrequent such litigation is resolved through the court system. Business and employment attorneys should recognize that the district courts spend the vast majority of time on criminal and minor civil matters and not on major business and employment cases.

Statewide, there are 10 judicial districts with 294 judgeships. The district courts have jurisdiction over civil actions, criminal cases, family, juvenile, probate, and violations of city ordinances. The district courts also handle appeals from conciliation court. These appeals are called trial de novo, which is actually a new trial, not just a review of the conciliation court awards. Conciliation court will resolve civil disputes up to $15,000 in controversy.

In 2018, over 75% of the cases filed in district court involved minor criminal matters (415,507 cases) like traffic and misdemeanor matters. Additionally, there were nearly 70,000 major criminal cases that accounted for another 5% of the court docket. Family law matters accounted for another 3% of the court load; juvenile matters accounted for about the same.

Of this caseload, major civil matters, including business and employment disputes, only accounted for about 2% of the court docket. The court also reviewed minor civil matters, which is about 10% of the court time. But overall, business and employment attorneys need to recognize that the court does not deal with major business and employment disputes as much as other matters.

Attorneys representing parties in these type of cases should also be aware that the majority of the judges assigned to these cases in the Twin Cities area come from a background of working in criminal law or non-litigation law practices and do not have similar private practice experience of representing parties in business and employment matters. For example, of the 67 district court judges in the Fourth Judicial District (i.e., Minneapolis), only about a dozen judges have extensive background in business and employment litigation. About two-thirds of the bench came from a law practice in the area of criminal matters or a non-litigation law practice, such as in-house legal counsel or working for a nonprofit. These judges come from backgrounds that often are well-suited for the court calendar that each will face, but might not have prior experience with the nuances of the complex laws and regulations governing business and employment disputes.

That is why most parties choose to participate in arbitration, or use a mediator with experience in the substantive area in dispute. After representing parties for now 30 years in these type of disputes, I began serving as a mediator to help the parties reach a resolution through settlement rather than through the court system.