18th Annual Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute and 2011 Neutrals’ Conference

More than 200 lawyers, judges, and other professionals packed the State Bar of Georgia Conference Center on December 9, 2011, for the Eighteenth Annual Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute and 2011 Neutrals’ Conference.

Sponsored by the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution, the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution, and the Dispute Resolution Section of the State Bar of Georgia, the Institute provides Georgia ADR professionals with educational opportunities from local and national experts. The Institute is consistently one of the most popular single-day events hosted by the Institute for Continuing Legal Education.
 
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The 2011 Institute showcased a broad variety of ADR topics including: new arbitration processes; mediation in Uganda and Jamaica; the science behind lie detection; multi-party mediations; keys to well-drafted mediation agreements; science-based ways to improve dispute resolution practice; and how judges can help increase settlement rates in their courtrooms.
 
A highlight was a panel that focused on the difficulties that arose when compensating victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their families. The discussion was enhanced by video segments from the film Out of the Ashes: 9/11, a groundbreaking documentary on the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund created by Congress ten days after the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
 
The law that created the compensation fund required that payments be calculated using the future earning potential of the victims – a source of criticism from victims’ families.  About $7 billion in taxpayer funds were paid to 5,562 family members, with payments ranging from $250,000 to $7.1 million, and an average payment of $2.1 million. A unique aspect of the fund was the opportunity that victims’ families had to tell the stories about the victims to the staff of the Special Master of the victim compensation fund, Kenneth Feinberg. Although the stories did not impact the financial calculation, it gave family the space to share their stories and the gravity of their losses.
 
While the fund successfully made substantial payments to victims’ families without the stresses and delays of litigation, panelists agreed that the families did not – and could not – receive justice from the fund or the process. “The money could never make the victims or their families whole,” said Deborah Greenspan, Deputy Special Master for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
 
Nearly 100 families chose to litigate their claims rather than go through the Victim Compensation Fund. The litigants had hoped to hold accountable entities such as airlines and security personnel, but they were stymied by the government’s refusal to release key information it deemed classified, said Marilyn Berger, professor at Seattle University School of Law and executive producer, writer, and co-director of Out of the Ashes: 9/11. “All of those families eventually settled their claims without trial – the last case nearly ten years after 9/11 – and without attaining the justice they sought for the victims,” she said. “Many questions remain unanswered,” Berger said, “because the settlements are confidential.”
 
alt“Despite the valid criticisms of the victim compensation fund, it demonstrated the value of alternatives to traditional litigation,” said Shinji Morokuma (at left), Director for the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution.
 
“The fund presented as fair a way as possible to calculate payments, and it got those payments to the families years before those who litigated saw any return on their considerable investments of time, energy, and money,” Morokuma said.  “Moreover, the fund allowed the families to share their stories of love and loss in a human way that the litigation system could not. Sometimes those kinds of opportunities are worth more to people than money.”
 
For more information about the Office of Dispute Resolution, please visit www.godr.org or contact Mr. Shinji Morokuma ( shinji.morokuma@gaaoc.us, 404-463-3785).
 

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