(1) In its discretion, the court may, either on its own motion or upon request of any party, order a settlement conference at any time before decision in any case pending before the court. Such settlement conference will normally be conducted by a hearing examiner appointed by the court or, if the parties agree, by an outside mediator. In the event an outside mediator is used, the parties shall share and pay the expense of hiring the mediator. The conference may be in person or by conference telephone call at a time and place as the court may direct. The court may direct that the person with ultimate settlement authority for each party be present at the conference.