Online Business Settles Legal Disputes
Prince Geroge's Gazette -
by Marcus Moore
Staff Writer
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 alternative."

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 said.

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 ago.

"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 future."

Actually, VirtualCourthouse may be riding the wave, rather than pioneering one., an online legal service in New York City, was launched in August 1998 to settle monetary disputes in insurance and commercial claims.

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 1999.


For more information about VirtualCourthouse, please contact:

Karen Pelton
Director of Customer Service & Marketing


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