Ordered to mediate, litigants find they like it

How do you get people to try something they might like? If you're a judge, you might order them. That's what happened in the Washington, D.C., Superior Court: 630 of the oldest unresolved civil cases were ordered to be mediated during ``settlement week'' last May. Another 100 were voluntarily submitted.

Courtrooms were closed for six days while eight judges and more than 100 lawyers - all volunteers - mediated more than 500 cases. (Another 150 cases scheduled to be mediated were settled before the sessions began.)

By the time the dust had settled, so had nearly 200 lawsuits. Another 10 or so have been settled since without going to trial. Of the original 701 cases scheduled, just over half have been resolved to date. Among the cases settled - besides the 1975 suit - were a $10 million personal-injury claim and a complex, multiparty suit.

Based on experience with similar programs in Columbus, Ohio, and in Orange County, Calif., organizers had anticipated a lot of settlements. But they didn't anticipate the high caliber of the lawyers who participated and the favorable way many saw the experience.

Court specialist Linda Finkelstein said: ``They all got firsthand experience in a new process - mediation - and many of them saw the potential.'' Another settlement week is planned for April.

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