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Bar News - September 16, 2011

Court Hires ADR Coordinator; Realigns Mediation Oversight

Laure S. Levin
The NH Judicial Branch has hired a new coordinator for dispute resolution programs with the goal of focusing services on areas where mediation and arbitration can have the greatest impact on reducing crowded court dockets.

Laure S. Levin is a mediator and administrator with more than 20 years’ experience in the field. An attorney admitted in Vermont, she runs a mediation and collaborative law practice based in Norwich, Vt.

Levin began her career in alternative dispute resolution working in community mediation centers in New York City and later served as assistant ADR coordinator for the New York State Unified Court system. In New York she helped design and implement city and statewide ADR programs and worked in budget preparation and training for lawyers, judges, administrators, community volunteers and social workers. In Vermont and New Hampshire, Levin’s ADR practice has included family, employment, and housing issues.

Levin will assume responsibility for coordinating the New Hampshire court system’s ADR programs on October 7.

Levin’s office will be located at the Trial Court Center in Concord (SEE sidebar) where she will report directly to the Judicial Branch Administrative Judges—Circuit Court Administrative Judge Edwin W. Kelly, Circuit Court Deputy Administrative Judge David D. King and Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau.

"The Judicial Branch is fully committed to advancing the use of alternative means of dispute resolution and the state legislature has supported our effort to use these programs to reduce the number of adversarial proceedings in our courts," Judge Kelly said. "Attorney Levin’s background, experience and demonstrated commitment to ADR will enable us to move forward aggressively to achieve that goal," Kelly said.

"Watching people work together with an ADR professional, as I have done for many years, and seeing them dig deep to solve their issues is immensely gratifying," Levin said. "ADR provides efficient and cost effective processes that allow people to work at their own pace to reach the best negotiated out-of-court settlements, " she said.

As ADR coordinator, Levin will concentrate on providing ADR services to the Circuit and Superior Courts and the Supreme Court. For the past several months, trial court administrators, faced with budget cutbacks and staff reductions, have been working to reorganize ADR operations to focus on providing services that will have the most impact on reducing the number of cases on the court docket. Levin will coordinate an effort to concentrate the court’s ADR services on resolving the high volume of matters—particularly in the family division—that can be resolved out of court, clearing the way for judges and staff to focus on matters that require judicial proceedings.

For example, plans have been in development in the Circuit Court to enhance mediation efforts in lengthy contested child custody matters, particularly in cases where funding was unavailable to provide a guardian ad litem for the child, or children, involved. There are additional plans to intensify mediation efforts in marital cases that are reopened, after final orders have been issued, for resolution of additional matters. Thousands of these types of matters are handled by judges and marital masters in the Circuit Court Family Division each year.

It is anticipated that there will also be an effort to explore ways to use ADR services in cases involving abuse and neglect of children. Budget cutbacks this year resulted in elimination of funding for appointment of lawyers for parents who were accused of abuse or neglect but were financially unable to hire an attorney.

"We are looking for ways to improve on what we have and will be reviewing all of our ADR programs to assure they continue to produce the results we are looking for, with the focus on improving court operations and service to the public," Judge David King said. "If that requires phasing out some ADR programs to give priority to others we will not hesitate to do that," King said.

The ADR coordinator’s office, working with the administrative judges, will continue to set standards and qualifications for dispute resolution professionals; provide access to dispute resolution providers in all divisions of the court system; and oversees the quality of dispute resolution programs.

There will be no immediate changes in the Superior Court Rule 170 program, which provides rosters of volunteer and market-rate mediators who have been certified by the court system.

In 2007, the state legislature formally established an office of mediation and arbitration (OMA) to serve as a dispute resolution resource to the courts through development and administration of dispute resolution programs. Karen J. Borgstrom recently resigned as the OMA administrator to take a position at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

New Hampshire began using alternative dispute resolution programs, with voluntary mediators in the early 1990s. 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 case through mediation.

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