Online Business Settles Legal
Geroge's Gazette -
by Marcus Moore
July 22, 2005
Move over Judge Wapner, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown and
your video colleagues: The cyber-judges are here.
Unlike TV judges, however, these
online judges aren't interested in entertainment, but in
providing a quick, relatively low-cost way to settle legal
disputes without the hassles of going to court.
VirtualCourthouse, which handles
about 25 personal injury cases a month, allows lawyers to
submit their cases online, choose an arbitrator and settle the
dispute for less than $200.
VirtualCourthouse has about 25
online judges who rule on the cases, said the company's founder
and CEO, Arthur M. Monty Ahalt, a former judge in Prince
George's County Circuit Court for 17 years. Ahalt retired in
1999, after conducting 10,000 settlement conferences during his
career, he said.
VirtualCourthouse charges a $50
filing fee for each submitted case; each party involved in the
case also pays $50.
Ahalt, 63, of Annapolis, said he
founded the Web site last year because of the need to find
resolutions to the more frivolous cases that can be resolved
without face-to-face contact between the parties. When he was a
county judge, he was responsible for finding and implementing
new technologies to speed up the court process.
"There had to be a more
efficient way to resolve repetitive disputes," Ahalt said. "The
Internet could resolve those disputes. It provides an
In 2001, Ahalt and five other
investors put up $600,000 to start the Web site. Last year, its
first year of operation, the site took in less than $100,000 in
revenue, he said.
"We're in startup mode," Ahalt
According to Ahalt,
VirtualCourthouse can be used for arbitration, mediation or
neutral case evaluation. The process begins when the parties
agree on a neutral mediator and present documents to support
their case online.
"I've used it on quite a few
cases," said Ilona Fisher, a personal injury lawyer with
Weinstock, Friedman & Friedman in Baltimore. "My clients
and I feel the results have always been fair. It looks like the
neutrals pay attention to each individual case."
Fisher has used
VirtualCourthouse in nine cases since February.
"It's so efficient. I think it's
been really successful."
Charging $150 an hour, Prince
George's Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Femia of Accokeek has
arbitrated 10 cases since he joined VirtualCourthouse one year
"We were colleagues for many,
many years and I thought I'd like to help him," Femia said of
Ahalt. "There are certain conflicts that don't require a lot of
face-to-face interaction. VirtualCourthouse is the wave of the
Actually, VirtualCourthouse may
be riding the wave, rather than pioneering one.
CyberSettle.com, an online legal
service in New York City, was launched in August 1998 to settle
monetary disputes in insurance and commercial
According to CyberSettle's Web
site, about 10,000 claims were registered in the first 17
months of operations, with about 4,000 claims settled by late
For more information about
VirtualCourthouse, please contact:
Director of Customer Service & Marketing