D.C. Superior Court officials yesterday announced they will attempt to reduce the court's heavy case load by sending some small claims, family disputes and juvenile deliquency matters to informal mediation outside the court.
Court officials said they hope the program, which is being sponsored by the American Bar Association and offered to participants on a volunteer basis, will become a popular way to avoid long waits in the court system.
Officials said a fund-raising effort will begin soon and that they expect funds to be available within the next six months to implement the project, which will then last one year.
The District of Columbia is one of three cities selected by the ABA to test the concept.
"This is one of the most progressive developments in court administration we have seen in the last decade," Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I told reporters at a courthouse press conference.
"We have seen that the adversary process is not always the best way to resolve disputes."
Judge Gladys Kessler, head of the court's family division, outlined four types of litigation that could be taken to a mediator rather than a judge: small claims suits involving $750 or less; child support disputes; civil cases involving more than $750 but less complex than other suits and such juvenile matters as vandalism, assaults and shoplifting.
More than 25,000 cases are filed in the court's small claims division each year. Judges in the court's family division hear approximately 800 motions for child support annually.
"Because of our enormous caseload," Kessler said, "it is taking people three or four months to get child support."
Kessler said waiting time could be significantly reduced if the cases were handled outside court.
Kessler said the bar plans to provide volunteer attorneys and other trained personnel to mediate the cases and that people will be notified of the mediation option when they come to court.