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OFFICIALS HAVE DOUBTS ABOUT MEDIATION PROGRAM

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Two weeks before the state's pilot mediation program will be launched, some lawmakers, judges and lawyers are having second thoughts.

Despite those reservations, the Judicial Council voted 10-2 Friday to launch the Alternative Dispute Resolution program on Jan. 1. The law creating the program takes effect on that date. The Judicial Council is the governing body of state's court system.Lawmakers flinched first. The Judiciary Interim Committee Thursday hand-delivered a letter to Chief Justice Michael D. Zimmerman asking him to delay implementation of the program for 90 days so the committee can review any changes to the program rules and evaluate the program.

Then attorney Mike Hansen, who represents the Utah State Bar on the council, attacked the program as intrusive and unnecessary at Friday's council meeting.

Clients and their lawyers shouldn't be forced to consider mediation, he said. Besides, there's not enough of a backlog in the trial courts to warrant the program. "We're solving a problem that doesn't exist in Utah."

Beginning in January, all those who file lawsuits - including divorces - in the 3rd and 5th Districts must at least consider mediation. Those who don't want to mediate their case must notify the court. Without such notification, the case will be assigned to a mediator.

Before making the decision, the parties in a lawsuit must view a videotape on alternative dispute resolution, which covers both mediation and arbitration.

The videotape and forms "are intrusive into the attorney/client relationship and create a bureaucracy at the front end," Hansen said.

The mediation program "is just another roadblock to a speedy and just resolution of a case" because some briefs can't be filed or hearings held unless the necessary forms have been signed, he said.

"Just requiring attorneys to show a 10-minute video is not an intrusion," countered 3rd District Judge William Bohling. He helped draft the ADR rules.

"Our interest is in reducing the cost people have to spend for law-suits."

Some members of the litigation section of the Utah State Bar also have reservations, Hansen said.

Utah State Bar Commissioner Craig Snyder also asked the judiciary to delay implementation of the program, Zimmerman said.

Lawyers are nervous because this hits their pocketbooks, Bohling said. "Attorneys have a real dilemma. If this system works, it will reduce their legal fees. It's contrary to their economic interest. We understand that."