Arbitration is primarily a district court program. The arbitration coordinator in each district identifies cases eligible for arbitration very early in the process. By rule, the arbitration hearing is conducted within 60 days of the filing of the last responsive pleading. Parties may stipulate to an arbitrator, but in the absence of a stipulation, the court appoints an arbitrator from its list. To appear on this list, an arbitrator must: have been licensed to practice law for at least 5 years, with the last two as a member of the North Carolina State Bar; undergo arbitrator training; and be designated by the chief district court judge. The arbitrator is paid a $100 fee by the court for each arbitration hearing.
Arbitration hearings are limited by rule to one hour and take place in the courthouse. The hearings are conducted in a serious but relaxed atmosphere, with the rules of evidence serving as a guide. Once concluded, the arbitrator renders an award, which is filed with the court. A party dissatisfied with the award may proceed to a trial de novo by filing a written request with the court within 30 days of the award and payment of $100 to reimburse the State for the cost of the arbitrator. If no action is taken during this time, the court enters judgment on the award.
Beginning in 2003, a fee of $100 was imposed by the General Assembly to reimburse the State for the cost of providing the arbitrator. The fee is divided equally among the parties and shall be paid prior to arbitration.