Citizens take advantage of Settlement Week options

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 20, 2007, 5:45am

Plaintiffs in more than 30 cases avoided the courtroom and took advantage of Jefferson County Settlement Week Sept. 17-21 to resolve disputes.

For the past 18 years, the Jefferson County Settlement Week has provided citizens with a timely and cost-effective way to resolve disputes.

During the week of Sept. 17-21, dozens of residents took advantage of the opportunity during the 2007 Settlement Week.

"It has been a great week," Bonnie Dean, director of the Jefferson County Bar Association, said. "We have had about a 70 percent settlement rate."

The annual project is co-sponsored by the Jefferson County Young Lawyer's Association and the Dispute Resolution Center of Jefferson County and authorized by Jefferson County civil courts.

Attorneys with cases in Jefferson County are asked by the presiding courts to review their case files and submit lawsuits appropriate for mediation to the project. The Dispute Resolution Center develops the week-long docket from the cases submitted.

The goal is to help parties find satisfying solutions and reduce the courts' backlog and costs by mediating as many cases as possible during Settlement Week.

Mediation is a confidential problem-solving negotiation process conducted by local attorneys trained in mediation. The mediator's job is to help disputing parties clarify issues and evaluate options for solutions.

Mediators for Settlement Week do not impose rulings or give legal advice, but will assist parties in evaluating their case and exploring settlement options. The attorneys volunteer their time to make this low cost project work.

Dean said around 50 attorneys volunteered this year and 30 cases were mediated during the week.

"There were close to 50 submissions, but many arrived at settlements before Settlement Week even began," Dean said.

She said that the number of submissions for Settlement Week has actually declined over the past 18 years.

"But that is a good thing!" Dean said. "That means the word has spread about mediation, and many people are not waiting for Settlement Week to take advantage of mediation."

Dean said she has heard positive comments from plaintiffs throughout the week.

"They were really happy to have this option. Most didn't really want to go to court, and this was an affordable way to resolve their disputes," Dean said.

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