Officials at D.C. Superior Court say an experimental program designed to clear up a lengthy backlog of civil cases by offering lawyers and judges as mediators resolved 345 civil court cases, the highest rate of success for such programs in the nation.
The six-day mediation program, called Settlement Week, was undertaken in the first week of May. The oldest case dated from 1975.
Eight superior court judges and more than 100 volunteer lawyers gave up their regular duties and met with parties of suits to resolve their cases.
"By any standard, Settlement Week data spelled success," said Linda Finkelstein, a coordinator of the program. "Our judges and lawyers not only set impressive records, but they enjoyed and learned a great deal about the potential of mediation efforts."
Nearly half of the 701 cases that were part of the program were resolved. According to a report by Superior Court officials:The average length of the mediated conferences was 1 hour and 20 minutes. Twenty-three percent of the cases were mediated in 45 minutes or less.The oldest case filed in 1975, was settled in a 30-minute conference. The case with the largest claim, a $12 million negligence suit, was not settled, but a $10 million case in a personal injury claim was settled in a 50-minute conference.Nearly three-fourths of the cases involved alleged wrongs such as assault and battery, deceit, false arrest, fraud, libel, slander, negligence, personal injury and wrongful death. Thirty-eight percent of those cases were settled. A higher settlement rate -- 44 percent -- was achieved in so-called contract cases such as those involving breach of contract, warranty, debt, rent on property and services rendered.
Oregon and Ohio are considering adopting programs for setting aside one week for mediation sessions for lawyers, and nearly half a dozen cities have already conducted settlement weeks.
Such efforts at obtaining settlements, held as special events, "are quicker, cheaper and less risky than waiting for an actual trial," said Harold Paddock, a Columbus, Ohio, court official who has tracked similar programs nationwide. He said clearing a backlog of cases also helps the cases that are not settled because they will come to trial sooner. -- James Munoz