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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Mediation - One Cure for the Court Crisis


By Matt Geyer

The 1980’s are coming . . . back! No, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the leg warmers in aerobics classes. And certainly not the Dow Jones Industrials in the 2,000’s . . . we hope.

But the bad old days of waiting five years for a courtroom to try your case may be just around the corner. So says Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow of the San Francisco Superior Court in an article in the August California Bar Journal. While the new funding compromise certainly is good news, the additional funds do not save the day. As announced by Presiding Judge Feinstein in an August 31, 2011, press release, with the new funds 75 staff must still be cut and 14 courtrooms closed.

A BASF Task Force is working closely with a broad coalition of bar, community, judicial, and political leaders on a resolution to this crisis, and those efforts may prove fruitful in helping ease the crisis in the short term. But if a long term solution is not achieved then Judge Karnow could well be right. And if he is, there’s no time like the present to explore mediation options. Revisiting the days of litigating until the discovery cutoff, then appearing every few months for a Monday morning trial call only to cool your heels in the hallways for a week, won’t do anything positive for either side’s bottom line.

That fear of being the first to utter “the M word” is more of an anachronism than ever. If it isn’t gone by now, it should be. You’ll be doing everyone a favor – your client included – by suggesting mediation, if for no other reason than the conditions in the courthouse, which appear certain to get worse long before they get better.

The time and cost attendant to even one wasted trial call will dwarf that of a mediation – especially with programs like BASF’s Mediation Services at your disposal. And the cost of two wasted calls will exceed the cost of settling – or the value of winning – many civil cases.

So whether yours are business disputes or employment claims, or involve personal injuries or real estate deals, you may want to consider your mediation options sooner than ever.

Or you could wait, and do it the next time you’re trailing for trial down on Polk and McAllister. Alas, it won’t be long now.

Matthew Geyer, a former partner at Landels Ripley & Diamond and Rogers Joseph O’Donnell, and a commercial arbitrator since 1991, has focused his practice on service as a neutral since 2003. He is on BASF’s Mediation Services Panel, as well as the American Arbitration Association’s Large and Complex Case Panel, its Securities Panel and its Mediation Panel.

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