The Kentucky Court of Appeals has held that an agreement to submit all or a portion of a family law dispute to binding arbitration, without independent review by a sitting "real" judge, is an impermissible delegation of the court's power.
Among the more notable comments the court made, however, was the following, made without any citation of further authority:
Notwithstanding that the parties agreed to pay the arbitrator fees, what is most distressing about this scenario is that arbitration is obviously not a viable alternative or available to parties with lower incomes who can not afford to pay an arbitrator the sum of $225 per hour. This effectively creates a class system within Jefferson Family Court proceedings where more affluent individuals have the opportunity to pay for a “private judge” to conduct their proceedings – while
parties of lesser means and income must have their case heard by constitutionally elected judges in perhaps a less expeditious time frame.
Regardless of how noble the intent of utilizing arbitration in divorce proceedings, such a system that permits affluent individuals the opportunity to expedite the disposition of their domestic
relations cases in family court that is otherwise unavailable or cost prohibitive to persons of lesser incomes, appears to be both unconscionable and unconstitutional on its face, in our opinion.
Now I know, from reading the rest of the opinion, that commercial arbitration is permissible in Kentucky, and I'll bet that, whether they know it or not, Kentucky bank customers, HMO patients, customers of real estate brokers, and lots of other folks have entered into arbitration agreements regarding the services of those providers, just like their California cousins.
I also know that there are a significant number of folks in Kentucky who end up going to family court without a lawyer, because they can't afford to hire a lawyer. I'll also guess that in general, they don't do as good a job in presenting their cases as attorneys would have done for them.
So, seems to me, there's a "class system" in place already. It also seems to me that if litigant couples have the resources and the mutual willingness to take their cases "out of the system" to an arbitrator, mediator, psychologist, clergyperson, or even a guy who'll adjudicate their dispute using a Ouija Board, this actually works to free up scarce judicial system resources for everyone else.
Am I missing something?
A tip of the big grey fedora to Diana L. Skaggs of Kentucky for the pointer.