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Published: Monday, 5/27/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago

Retired judge, 3 lawyers make the case for mediation service

Attorney J. Michael Vassar, retired Judge Peter Handwork, and attorney Henry Herschel, from left, along with attorney Donald Mewhort, Jr., are starting a new mediation and arbitration service. Attorney J. Michael Vassar, retired Judge Peter Handwork, and attorney Henry Herschel, from left, along with attorney Donald Mewhort, Jr., are starting a new mediation and arbitration service.

During 36 years on the bench, retired Judge Peter Handwork saw his share of civil lawsuits that dragged on far too long at far too great a cost.

“Many, many, many times I have said to people from the bench, ‘This is a case for mediation,’” he said.

Now, since retiring Feb. 8 from the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals, Judge Handwork and three longtime lawyers have started Great Lakes Mediation & Arbitration Services. Their mission: to help individuals work out their differences outside a courtroom.

Partners Henry B. Herschel, Donald M. Mewhort, Jr., and J. Michael Vassar agree that when it comes to civil litigation — from personal injury cases to divorces — there’s a great need for mediation, which provides a neutral party to help two parties find common ground.

“What it will do, it cuts down court dockets. It cuts down costs. People gain control of their cases,” Mr. Herschel said. “It has a lot of plusses. I don’t see any minus factors.”

Mr. Vassar concurred.

“The control of the case is really critical. Otherwise you’re throwing dice with a jury,” he said.

The men said civil cases can cost litigants tens and at times hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for lawyers, depositions, and expert witnesses. Mediation, at $200 an hour, can save time, money, and frustration. The goal is to resolve a dispute in a day.

“You pay a mediator, let’s say it takes eight hours, $1,600 a day — a whole lot less expensive than taking the thing to trial a year from now,” Judge Handwork said.

While some courts have their own mediator on staff — Lucas and Wood County Common Pleas Courts among them — the attorneys who started Great Lakes Mediation say hiring a private mediator can have its benefits. They each have 40-plus years of experience, for starters.

“The mediator, when he facilitates, he uses his background and knowledge saying, ‘Based on my experience, here’s what I think a judge will do,’” Mr. Herschel said.

Judge Handwork, who served as a Lucas County Common Pleas judge from 1977 until joining the Court of Appeals in 1983, said he believes the team offers potential clients confidence.

“Between the four of us, we offer 180-plus years of combined experience in exactly the kinds of cases that are going to be mediated by the lawyers in Toledo,” he said. “…We’re coming from perspectives that allow us greater insight into some of the things going on in these cases. We’ve seen them time and time again.”

Age limits prevented Judge Handwork from seeking another term.

“I knew that when I left the bench I wanted to do this and I figured I’d just do it on my own, but at different points in time at different functions I ran into each one of these fellows all of whom I respect and like and have for years,” Judge Handwork, 71, said. “I think the question always started out, ‘Well, what are you going to do in retirement?’”

When he told them his plans, they said they’d like to be involved too. Mr. Herschel, 71, is the chief public defender for Lucas County and has an active practice in domestic relations and family law. Mr. Mewhort, 72, focuses on labor and employment law in a semi-retired status with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick. Mr. Vassar, 73, practices part-time in all areas of civil litigation.

Judge Handwork said the four of them see the mediation firm as a good way to use their experience and knowledge in the twilight of their careers. “I think we’re all interested in intending to remain productive and useful and helpful to the legal community that we’ve all served for a long time and believe in and want to see continue to be effective, but it gets so bogged down,” Judge Handwork said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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