CHARLESTON - A local court program helped settle more than two dozen circuit court cases in Kanawha County earlier this month by using mediation.

Settlement Week Alternative Resolution by Mediation (SWARM) helped settle 25 of 33 cases, a 76 percent success rate. Mediation is an informal way of resolving a case, before the case goes before a judge or jury.

"Mediation is a beneficial way for parties to sit down in a more informal process to discuss their cases and see whether or not they can be resolved," Tom Tinder, the executive director of the West Virginia State Bar, said.

SWARM, which was started 11 years ago, is a bi-yearly event that happens the first full week of April and October. Kanawha Circuit Court Manager Jimmy Thaxton said the program is a better way to resolve conflict because cases heard in mediation are heard quickly and for less money.

"Mediators try to get parties to agree to the outcome of the case," Thaxton said. "It's less expensive because you don't have to go to trial, and it doesn't take as much time because you're medicating early on in the case."

SWARM is a free program. Lawyers volunteer their time to be a mediator. Cases are nominated by attorneys, judges or by the parties.

Tinder said has participated in years past, and also participated this spring. He said SWARM is a model program not only for the state but also the country.

"Mediation and alternative dispute resolution is the biggest new activity that has occurred in our legal court system in the past ten years," Tinder said. "It's the biggest new activity that has had the most positive impact on our court system."

Thaxton said lawyers volunteer their time because it gives them practice on something they might not get to try often.

"Some like mediating, it puts them on a different side of the fence," Thaxton said.

He said he has a list of more than 250 local lawyers who have been through the State Bar mediator training.

Tinder said the State Bar has been running a two-day seminar every summer for the past 10 to 12 years that trains lawyers in mediation and that more than 1,200 lawyers have been trained.

Thaxton said that the October 2004 statistics show SWARM had mediated 2,068 cases -- 1,035 of which were settled -- since 1996.

However, what is not shown in the statistics is the number of cases that were settled in the days or weeks after the scheduled mediation, he said.

"I get calls all the time, two weeks after the mediation program, that say 'Hey, we settled our case,'" he said. "They go home and digest what happened in mediation."

Thaxton also said that when the program was started, most of the community did not know what mediation was. However, it is now normal for a case, and most judges require mediation before they will hear a case, Thaxton said.

If anyone is interesting in nominating their case for the October mediation, they can contact the judge's office. Thaxton said he will start taking nominations in June.

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