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ADR: end strife

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ADR, it is called: ``Alternative dispute resolution.'' The subject of books, meetings, publicity, and (within the judicial community) a measure of uncertainty and concern, ADR is a catchall for every out-of-court method for terminating civil disagreement. Lawyers and judges, like other professionals and the general public, are always seeking a better way to get things done. In these days of four-year waits for civil trials and delays filled with expensive overuse of legal talent, the pressure for faster, less costly justice is overpowering.

The response, ADR (sometimes called ADRM, for ``alternative dispute resolution movement'') is less a solution than a sign that the consumers of justice are, at the very least, dissatisfied with the product the judges are turning out.

But to ignore it is to allow the problem to intensify.

Lawyers become judges for a variety of reasons, chief among which is the pleasure and satisfaction derived from the job of judging -- that is, of presiding over courtroom disputes. For many judges, any activity other than sitting in court not only lacks enjoyment; it constitutes role-abandonment.

Suggest to such a jurist that a judge's job should include managing the flow of cases through the system and he will likely reply that the state hires court clerks for that sort of menial task. Intimate that a judge confronting a civil case should spend time attempting to mediate a solution and the response may well be: ``Let an arbitrator do that; the state commissioned me to run trials.''

Wrapped up in this idea that a judge is a judge only when he referees a courtroom battle is the assumption that the parties to a litigation are at best contending to gain recognition as sole champion of the truth and at worst combating for a winner-take-all triumph.

That view may be both simplistic and wrong. Bear in mind that, nationwide, well over 90 percent of civil lawsuits end in settlement. Nine out of 10 court battles, that is, never reach a courtroom decision.

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