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Volunteers Will Tackle Case Backlog in Van Nuys Court

October 18, 2003|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 300 volunteer lawyers will roll up their sleeves over the next two weeks and try to settle hundreds of civil disputes, ranging from simple personal injury cases to complex employment matters, that are awaiting trial at the Van Nuys Courthouse.

The settlement program, set to begin Monday, will open 11 civil courtrooms to the intensive settlement efforts of trained volunteers. It is sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Bar Assn.

"Because current budget cuts are affecting litigants' ability to timely resolve their disputes, the court welcomes the opportunity to meld the bar association's initiative with creative scheduling by the Van Nuys judges," said Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The bar created the program, known as the Valley Associated Settlement Team, to help expedite the flood of cases filed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the implementation of the state's three-strikes law.

At that time, volunteers settled 975 cases, saving the court about 4,000 trial days, according to court statistics.

This year, Valley bar President James Felton hopes to settle as many as half, if not more, of the cases being sent by judges to the settlement program. That will clear court calendars so judges can concentrate on cases headed for trial.

"Our members look forward to saving both money and time for litigants and the court," said Felton, who is also a volunteer.

The Los Angeles trial courts have been hard hit by massive budget cuts. Civil cases are particularly vulnerable, Felton said, because criminal matters, by law, take priority over all other types of cases.

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