Trial Delays Caused By COVID Can Be Overcome By Selecting The Right Arbitrator

The phrase “Justice delayed is Justice denied” comes too easily to mind when you consider the backlog in trials created by the COVID-induced closing of courthouses.  In Orange County, Florida, where Mateer Harbert is based, jury trials are just starting again, but criminal cases will take precedence.  Non-jury civil trials are scheduled, but the backlog is significant.  Many judges are booked until 2023.  New case management procedures have just been imposed that will cause cases to be ready for trial in a mandated time frame, but that does not mean trials will happen as soon as the case is ready.  The hope is that most cases will eventually settle at mediation, but not all of them will.  One solution to getting your case that won’t settle heard sooner has been available for decades – private arbitration.  The authors of this article believe that it makes sense for litigants and their attorneys to look carefully at private arbitration for their cases today.

Four Mateer Harbert attorneys are highly experienced arbitrators.  In this article, they will briefly share their thoughts on how taking your civil case into a private arbitration can be a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to waiting for a Circuit Judge’s docket to open up.  We will also share some guidance on how to commence the process of getting your case referred to a private arbitration.

Mateer Harbert Arbitrators Larry Phalin, Steve Bechtel and Jim Lussier have a combined 110+ years’ experience as private arbitrators.  They have handled cases involving high-rise building construction, interstate highway construction, single family home disputes, commercial contract disputes, consumer complaints – almost any civil case filed in the court system is a candidate for private arbitration, and the Mateer Harbert Arbitrators can handle most of them.[1]

Larry Phalin observes: “The days when a simple civil case can be tried within one year of filing are long gone.  More complex cases take longer by their nature, but the civil courts simply cannot handle the trial load as fast as the Judges would like.  This was true before COVID, but the 15 month shutdown has made the backlog almost unmanageable.”

Steve Bechtel said: “I have regularly served in arbitration cases where the final hearing can happen in less than one year.  Bigger cases take longer and schedules can be hard to juggle, but my experience is that arbitration is faster, if the parties want it to be.”

Jim Lussier concludes: “In arbitration, the goal is economy and fairness.  Economy is found in  a well-run arbitration – limit discovery to what is needed by the arbitrator, and get to the final hearing ready to persuade.  The fairness factor starts with a well-trained, experienced neutral, but clearly includes the pace – an earlier resolution is usually better by its very nature.”

In Florida, you can agree in advance of a dispute even arising to use arbitration instead of a civil suit, but there are also procedures in the Florida Arbitration Code for referring an existing  civil suit to binding arbitration.[2]  Both types start with the same thing – an agreement among the parties to use arbitration.  Such agreements can take many forms, subject to some statutory restrictions.[3]  In order to carry out the agreement to arbitrate, a separate agreement has to be made with the arbitrator.  This requires the parties to consider the cost-benefit analysis of the cost of arbitration vs. litigation.  Is the additional cost of the arbitrator’s fees justified?  After all, the court system is “free,” right?  The promise of a faster and more economical resolution of a dispute through arbitration is the premise upon which this comparison must rest.  If the parties and the arbitrator are successful, the calculation will often come out in favor of arbitration.

There are many details about referring an existing lawsuit to arbitration that a prospective arbitrator can discuss, and should discuss, with the parties to help them make this important decision.  Such discussions must involve participation by all parties at the same time, so that the arbitrator’s neutrality can be maintained.  The Mateer Harbert Arbitrators use technology to handle such discussions (as well as all aspects of case and evidence administration).  Have you got a civil case that is at the end of a long line of cases, waiting for your 2023/4 trial date?  Consider a private arbitration.  The Mateer Harbert Arbitrators are available to help the parties to your case make this important decision.


STEVE BECHTEL – Steve’s arbitrator experience goes back 30 years, and covers all manner of commercial disputes.


JIM LUSSIER – Jim handles both construction and commercial cases.  He has been on 3 member panels as well as the sole arbitrator, and has taken dozens of cases through final hearing and entered awards.


LARRY PHALIN – Larry has been an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) since the 1990’s.  He has extensive experience with complex construction cases.


Bios of each Arbitrator can be found at

[1] By choice, we do not accept arbitrations for personal injury cases or worker’s compensation, and other types are not allowed to be arbitrated, such as domestic/family law disputes.

[2] See §682.04, Fla. Stat.  This discussion is on binding arbitration, where the arbitrator’s decision can be converted into a civil judgment.  There are procedures for non-binding arbitration that are not being discussed in this article.  See §44.103, Fla. Stat.

[3] Cf., §682.014, Fla Stat. contains non-waivable arbitration provisions.

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