The judge to whom a case has been assigned shall enter an order directing counsel and the parties, at the earliest appropriate opportunity, to attempt to resolve or settle their dispute using extra-judicial proceedings such as mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution programs. Any such order may set forth the terms of the extra-judicial proceedings. Litigants in all civil cases are required to consider the use of an alternative dispute resolution process, including, but not limited to, mediation, settlement conferences, early neutral evaluation, and arbitration, at an appropriate stage in the litigation. Specific cases in which use of alternative dispute resolution would not be appropriate may be exempt from this requirement.
Settlement conferences shall be conducted in such a way as to permit an informative discussion between counsel and the parties, and the judge, or mediator of every possible aspect of the case bearing on its settlement, thus permitting the judge, or mediator to privately express his or her views concerning the settlement of the case. Attendance by a party representative with settlement authority at such conferences is mandatory, unless the court orders otherwise.
Settlement conference statements or memoranda submitted to the court or any other communications which take place during the settlement conference shall not be used by any party in the trial of the case. The judge, or mediator presiding over the settlement conference shall not communicate to the judge trying the case, the confidences of the conference except to advise as to whether or not the case has been settled. If the conference is conducted by a mediator, the costs of the conference, including the reasonable fees of the mediator, shall be assessed to the parties in such proportions as shall be determined by the judge.