Bar News - August 10, 2007
Karen Borgstrom Named Director of Court Mediation Office
By: Laura Kiernan, Judicial Branch Communications Director
Karen Borgstrom, an attorney and veteran mediator from Lebanon, will direct the new Judicial Branch Office of Mediation and Arbitration which will develop and manage the court system’s alternative dispute resolution programs (ADR). The legislature included funding to launch the new office in the state’s biennial budget effective July 1.
Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr., who has described ADR as “a critical part of any 21st century court system,” said that the new, permanent office, under Borgstrom’s fulltime direction, will make it possible for more citizens and businesses to resolve differences efficiently, and at a lower cost.
“We have an obligation to offer citizens options other than trials to resolve disputes,” Broderick said. “I believe Karen has the experience and leadership skills to help us meet that goal and make the justice system more affordable and accessible for everyone.”
Some form of pre-trial mediation is now mandatory in civil cases in four Superior Court locations and voluntary in the remaining seven Superior Courts. Marital mediation is required in the family cases; optional mediation is available in small claims cases and in Probate Court.
Before joining the court system, Borgstrom, the current president of the Grafton County Bar Association, had practiced law in the Lebanon area for more than 10 years, focusing primarily on family law and ADR. A certified marital mediator, Borgstrom has also worked as a volunteer mediator in the Superior Court Rule 170 program and she has mediated cases as part of the probate court program. She was the 2003-04 recipient of the Vermont Bar Association’s Community Service Award.
“I think I can offer experience as both an attorney and mediator who has used the system,” Borgstom said. She said she hopes to develop ways to make the ADR program more accessible and user-friendly for all the parties involved—litigants, especially those who don’t have lawyers, court staff and mediators. “I have worked in these programs and I know the value of having someone to contact when there is a problem,” Borgstrom said.
Borgstrom, an honors graduate of both Middlebury College and the Vermont Law School, said that removing appropriate cases from the court system, by resolving disputes through mediation and arbitration, will free up court resources so that cases that cannot be resolved through mediation can be brought to trial sooner.
“Once the new office gets up and running, the entire system will benefit and it will make the justice system much more available to all users,” Borgstrom said.
The goal of the new Mediation and Arbitration Office is to be self-funded. In addition to being a resource for court staff, the office will also set training standards for mediators who want to participate in the court mediation program, and oversee the quality control.
New Hampshire began using alternative dispute resolution programs, with voluntary mediators in the early 1990s. Increasingly, courts around the country have turned to ADR programs to help reduce legal fees and produce more efficient resolution of disputes, saving court time and costs. Experts say that parties who participate in mediation programs have an increased sense of satisfaction with the legal system because they feel they have played a role in the resolution of their cases through mediation
In December 2005, Peter Y. Wolfe, a retired Superior Court clerk who had led the ADR effort for many years, was appointed by Chief Justice Broderick to coordinate the court programs for 18 months. During that time, Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Linda S. Dalianis, who was a Superior Court judge for 20 years, was named to lead a Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Services. That committee, composed of lawyers, lawmakers, experienced mediators and judges, examined existing programs with an aim toward expanding the availability of ADR services.
Proposed rules for revamping the current volunteer ADR program in the Superior Courts are now before the Supreme Court, which is accepting public comment on the proposal until August 31. The text of the proposed rules and more information about the new Office of Mediation and Arbitration can be found on the Judicial Branch Web site at http://www.courts.state.nh.us/.
(See related article on page 26.)