Mediation mountain

The Madison County Record Jun. 24, 2007, 9:00am

Rest assured, when a plaintiff's lawyer describes their litigation as "complex," it's generally a signal for defendants to hold on to their wallets.

Call it an adjective of acceleration. The more difficult lawyers promise it is for we mere mortals to understand their causes of action, the more hours of toiling they can feign and the more they can ask for in court-ordered legal fees when it counts.

To be sure, for their inventor-protagonists, so-called "complex" lawsuits-- alleging various consumer fraud, corporate negligence and other depredation-- offer the fattest pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So color us skeptical that Chief Judge Ann Callis can find the collective will to temper her court's most epic crusades with mandatory mediation.

After implementing such a requirement for medical malpractice suits, she's created an exploratory panel of judges to study expansion of the concept to big dollar cases. We wish Judge Callis good luck. She'll need it.

The rub is that mediation requires both parties in a conflict have an actual interest in finding that satisfactory middle ground.

In medical malpractice lawsuits, "good faith" is generally the norm. But "complex" complaints---- a career smoker buys light cigarettes she thought were healthy, a man fears his oven will tip over and crush him, woman expects a dollar back in cash, not on her gift card-- evoke something of a tangential motivation.

To speedy resolution, that is. That's because most of them center around artificial "problems" that were never actually meant to be solved.

Rather, they were intended as a lever to gin up monstrous legal fees for their creator. And resolution without the obscene plaintiff's lawyer payday, while seemingly sensible, is plainly a conclusion that's unwelcome.

That doesn't mean mandatory mediation of class action and consumer fraud cases isn't worth trying. If anything, her push will flush out the true motives of those representing the dregs of our legal community. But it won't come without a fight. Common sense never does.

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