CONCORD—Lawyers who have volunteered as mediators and arbitrators in an effort to resolve disputes before they end up in expensive and time consuming trials were honored February 23rd at a reception at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

Superior Court Chief Justice Walter L. Murphy, in an interview prior to the event, said the "Alternative Dispute Resolution" program has saved time and money both for parties involved and the courts. Without the option of early pre-trial resolution, Murphy said, litigants would find themselves with a long waiting period before they got to trial because of the volume of civil cases filed each year.

"ADR provides for the early disposition of cases without having to go through a full trial discovery process and thereby saves the parties significant expense and conserves scarce judicial resources," Murphy said.

"The program also gives litigants an immediate forum for their cases to be heard and a sense that they are having a more direct impact on the outcome of their case," Murphy said.

New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice David A. Brock joined with Murphy in honoring the volunteer lawyers.

"Court system consumers want and deserve speedy resolution of their cases—your volunteer effort makes that possible," Brock said in remarks to about 100 lawyers who attended the event. "We couldn’t do it without you."

Brock said the program gives the parties "the sense and satisfaction that it is they—not a judge in a black robe or a high priced expert—who determine the outcome of their case."

Last year, 290 attorneys volunteered 841 days to the ADR program, which began operation in operation in July 1992.

In 1999, 5,537 civil actions were filed in Superior Court and 2,127 of those cases were handled by volunteer lawyers serving as mediators in the dispute resolution program, according to ADR program co-ordinator Peter Y. Wolfe.

"Ask any attorney, it’s working," said Wolfe who is Sullivan County Superior Court clerk.

Most recent estimates are that more than 60 percent of the cases that go to the ADR program are settled through the efforts of the mediators or arbitrators, Wolfe said.

The ADR program has helped eliminate the backlog of all Superior Court cases, because it allows judges to focus their time on issues that must be handled in the trial court. Before the ADR program was started in 1992 cases in the busiest courts in the state sometimes took three to five years to come to trial: now the wait can be a short as six to nine months, Wolfe said.

Parties to civil lawsuits filed in Rockingham, Hillsborough, Sullivan and Merrimack Counties are required to participate in the ADR program, before they are scheduled for trial. ADR, which is optional in the remaining six counties, offers litigants the following choices;

A "neutral evaluator" to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case and the likely outcome at trial

A mediator who tries to get the parties to come to terms on a mutually agreeable settlement on a voluntary basis

A neutral arbitrator hears both sides and then proposes a resolution that the parties can accept or reject. Binding arbitration is also available through ADR.