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Private Judges: These Services Help Settle Disputes

February 18, 1988|MYRNA OLIVER

"Rent-a-judges" market their services as individuals or through private dispute resolution companies. The main for-profit marketing groups are:

American Arbitration Assn. Founded in 1926 and based in New York, AAA has 33 offices throughout the country, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco in California, and lists up to 60,000 attorneys, businessmen and a few retired judges who arbitrate about 45,000 cases a year, reaching binding decisions in labor, insurance and business disputes. Arbitrators donate their services for the first day (60% of cases are decided then). They receive $350-$500 a day for extra days. Fees paid by each party begin at $150.

Endispute. Founded by two lawyers in 1981, the company operates from offices in Washington, Cambridge-Boston and Chicago, and specializes in designing dispute resolution methods and training corporations to use them. Disputants choose from a list of retired judges, lawyers, accountants, and businessmen who handle principally non-binding procedures that encourage litigants to develop mutually agreed-upon solutions. Fees begin at $200-325 per party for a half-day conference.

Judicate. Founded in 1985 by attorney Alan Epstein, Judicate advertises itself as "America's private court system." From its Philadelphia headquarters Judicate handles case management and coordination of its 400 retired judges throughout the 50 states, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. Judicate arranges hearings in law offices, law schools or rented conference rooms, and is now building in Los Angeles the nation's first private courthouse. Fees are $125 per party for a one-hour settlement conference, and $375 per party for a half-day hearing.

Judicial Arbitration & Mediation Services Inc. Founded in 1979 by retired Orange County Superior Court Judge H. Warren Knight, the company was expanded last year after Appellate Justice John K. Trotter retired to work with Knight. Headquartered in Santa Ana, JAMS has offices in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino and plans to open one soon in San Francisco. The company has 43 retired judges who conduct binding arbitrations, non-binding mediation or settlement conferences or reference trials at the company offices. The $250 hourly fee includes the hearing room and administrative services.

Judicial Resources. Begun by two attorneys in December, 1986, the company is based in San Francisco and lists 25 retired judges who will conduct hearings in the office's three conference rooms or travel throughout the Bay Area. They handle arbitrations, settlement conferences, non-binding mini-trials or full-scale reference trials. The company bills $50 an hour for administrative services above the judges' fees, which range from $150 to $250 an hour.

Individual rent-a-judges. They manage their own schedules, do their own billing, clerical work and distribution of written opinions either with a home computer or a part-time secretary. They handle some matters by conference telephone calls and travel to hearings in vacant courtrooms or law offices or rented conference rooms. They keep their entire fee, which ranges from $200 to $300 an hour.

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