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NJ Court Case Backlog Down, Despite Filings Being up

The NJ Court system has set time goals for disposing of cases that are filed in their system.  They rate cases by vicinage (county) and case type (criminal, civil, family, municipal, etc.).   The report for the year July 2007 through June 2008 has just been published by the Administrative Office of the Courts.  It shows that backlogs are down, despite the filings of new cases being up.  If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you can read it here.

In the civil division (in which I am referred cases to mediate), statewide filings amounted to nearly 95,000 new cases.  In the same time period, 109,000 cases were disposed of (basically, the cases ended due to a settlement, motion, judgment/trial, or lack of prosecution/defense).  At the end of June 2008, there were 93,000 active cases.  Of those, 17% were considered backlogged (past the expected time for a final disposition).  The total number of cases backlogged is down 5% from the previous year.

Cases from the special civil part (claims less than $15,000) amounted to 608,000 filings and 601,000 dispositions (both up 17% from the previous year).  2% of special civil part are considered backlogged.

How about divorces (where I am also referred cases from)?  Filings amounted to 68,000 (same as dispositions) over the year.  That is up 2% from the previous year.  18,000 were active at the end of the year and of those 5% were backlogged.

One of the main reasons cases are sent to mediation is to get them resolved and off the court’s docket.  The court simply does not have the resources to hear a million cases a year, along with all the associated motions, case management, settlement conferences, etc.  The fact is only 1.8% of cases filed ever make it to trial.  Mediation saves the litigants time, money and aggravation.

As a comparison, about 29% of all civil cases statewide resolve directly in mediation (my personal settlement rate in court assigned cases is about 50%).  Even if the cases do not settle directly in mediation, mediation will lay the ground work for the settlement.

Mediation and Home Sales

In NJ, you generally use an attorney to buy or sell a home.  Sales contracts are not standardized, often contain legalese and are not friendly for lay people (i.e. non-attorneys).  Attorneys hold the exchanged monies in their trust account for disbursement. California, on the other hand, generally uses standardized forms and escrow companies rather than attorneys.

California has a clause in their standard residential sales agreement that mandates mediation before suing, otherwise attorneys fees are not recoverable.  This was recently upheld in the case of Jay Lange v. Roxanne Schilling, et al.
The plaintiff spent $113,000 in legal fees to get a $13,000 judgment. Plaintiff did not offer mediation before suing (he claims he couldn’t find the defendant) and the appeals court would not grant him his legal fees.

So, he in essence gained a pyrrhic victory. He won on his underlying claim (the published judgment does not detail what that was), but it cost him $100,000 to do so.

Sometimes “winning” isn’t everything…or better yet, define what “winning” is prior to setting off on your journey to get it.

With a hat tip to Kevin Forrester at Making and Keeping Peace in Real Property Matters.

Rich Rodriguez Settles with WVU

Following up on an earlier post, Rich Rodriguez, now the coach at University of Michigan, has come to a settlement with West Virginia University.    Rodriguez left WVU to become UM’s head coach after last season and a $4 million buyout clause in his contract became the center of a lawsuit.  Coach Rodriguez thought that verbal promises were made that made the clause invalid.  WVU thought otherwise and sued for the full value.

The settlement was that Rodriguez will pay his alma mater $1.5 million in 3 installments starting in 2010 and U of M will chip in $2.5 million as well as pay for Rodriguez’s legal costs.

So why did this settle?  Only the parties know, but here’s some speculation:

  • Mediation elicited some facts to one or more parties and laid the ground work for the settlement.  Mediation allows parties to re-assess their upside and downside (risks) in a lawsuit.
  • Rodriguez really was looking for a payment plan (which is what he ended up with).  The settlement was for full value, not a discounted value, which is typically the case (parties hedge their litigation risks).
  • Several Wolverine officials were scheduled to be deposed shortly after the settlement was announced.  It is possible they did not want some information to come out.
  • Michigan was afraid of some sort of tortious interference or conspiracy suit in parallel to the suit filed against Rodriguez.
  • Perhaps it is at face value to what the Wolverine Athletic Director had to say: “To help Rich focus on the challenges ahead, we have worked with him to resolve the dispute between him and West Virginia University over the terms of his buyout.  Although he continues to disagree with the validity of the terms, Rich and the rest of us at Michigan felt that it would be best to get this distracting issue behind us.”
  • Or it could be something totally different motivating the settlement.

WVU hired Rodriguez assistant Bill Stewart who will essentially cost the Mountaineers nothing, as his contract will be funded for the next 5 years by the Rodriguez settlement.

Less than 5% of cases actually go to trial.  Mediation almost always helps pave the ground work for the settlement.  If you have a dispute you want settled, please contact me.

NFL and Comcast to mediate dispute

The Media Infocenter reports that the NFL and Comcast, the cable giant, have agreed to enter mediation to solve their dispute over which tier the NFL Network should appear on.

The mediation will focus on whether Comcast had a contractual right to place the NFL Network on a sports tier that around 2 million of Comcast’s 24.7 million subscribers buy for about $5 to $7 per month.

The NFL has refused to suspend its carriage discrimination complaint against Comcast at the FCC for the duration of the mediation. The complaint accused Comcast of favoring company-owned sports networks Golf Channel and Versus over independent channels like NFL Network. Comcast denied the charges in a June 20 filing at the FCC.

“While we are prepared to agree to mediation of the contract language dispute between us and Comcast, we expressly told the court in New York that we would not stay the FCC proceeding — which raises major issues of federal communications policy — during the mediation. Comcast is trying to persuade the FCC to stay it, but we see no good reason to do so — especially because Comcast doesn’t deny that it treats NFLN differently than sports channels that it owns,” NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said last Thursday.