PATRICIA A. KING: Mediation offers better path to resolve issues

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Patricia A. King, partner at Thompson, Meier & King 

Mediation week is once again upon us. Last year, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners proclaimed the third week of October as “Mediation Week” and the American Bar Association continues to designate this week as such.

When parties hear they must mediate their case prior to a final hearing or a trial, their first thought or question is generally, “Why?” or more likely “Are you kidding me? Why should I have to pay the mediator and my attorney to try to settle my case when I have not been able to reach an agreement in months or even years?” or “I’m not going to settle because he, she, they or it are wrong.” The simple answer is because mediation is statistically quite successful.

Mediation has and can resolve the case and bring months or years of litigation and financial and emotional expense to an end, even when the parties had previously felt there was no hope for settlement. Mediation has been successfully utilized in a wide variety of situations and cases that one would not generally think would be receptive to such a process, such as disputes involving aging parents, same gender relationships, congregational conflicts, health care issues, complex employment matters and a myriad of other cases.

The benefits of mediation are numerous. It can be cost effective; it allows for flexibility and creativity in developing a resolution; it’s efficient; and it is confidential. It also gives the parties the opportunity, if necessary, to express their emotions and it sometimes changes wrong perceptions or provides an opportunity for new information to be exchanged. Mediation may give a party the opportunity to be heard directly by the other side; it can help parties heal from hurt feelings and enable them to walk away from all the emotions that surround fault; it can help parties evaluate options; and it can preserve or terminate relationships more amicably. Mediation can also help the parties get a realistic understanding of their case. Parties to a mediated agreement are more likely to adhere to the terms of the agreement since they are the ones that developed the agreement.

The mediator will seek to assist the parties in reaching a mutually satisfying resolution to their conflict by facilitating the discussions and/or negotiations between the parties. The mediator focuses on the interests and needs of each party, as opposed to their positions, rights or desires. The final outcome is one agreed upon by the parties. In many cases, the parties will feel their voices have been heard and understood, and they have found a way to move forward.

So what may make a mediation successful? There are a number of factors that lead to a successful mediation. A few that seem to play a part in every mediation are:

  1. Treat everyone with respect, even if the parties disagree with the other’s rendition of the facts or there is animosity between the parties. No one wants to participate in reaching a resolution if they feel they are being treated poorly or called names.
  2. Patience, patience, patience. Mediation takes time. It takes time to work past hurt feelings or wrongs, as well as for parties to express their feelings, views, positions and interests.
  3. The person who has the authority to make the agreement needs to participate in the mediation. The ultimate decision maker needs to be present or immediately available. This way everyone can fully participate in the exchange of information and events as they unfold during the mediation, as well as have the opportunity to and express opinions, concerns and ideas for resolution.
  4. The participants need to be willing to compromise.
  5. Information needs to be shared. Many times parties resolve their case when one or all of the participants have learned something new during mediation.

Remember, there are no joint winners in court.

As Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor so eloquently stated: “The courts of this country should not be the places where resolution of disputes begins. They should be the places where the disputes end after alternative methods of resolving the disputes have been considered and tried.”

 

Patricia A. King is a partner of the law firm Thompson, Meier & King, P.C. in Canton. King’s practice focuses primarily in the areas of Juvenile and Family Law, and she is certified mediator with the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution.

Leadership Cherokee class of 2016 graduates

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Leadership Cherokee, a program of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, graduated its 28th Anniversary Class during a September 16th ceremony. With the completion of this year’s class, the Alumni count now totals over 570 graduates.

Members of the Leadership Cherokee Class of 2016 selected three of their peers to receive special annual recognitions. The Cristal Stancil Leadership Award honorees were Shannon Gibbs, Cherokee Fire & Emergency Services, and Michael Zenchuk, Mayor Pro-Tem of the City of Holly Springs. The Bob Frongillo Magic Spark Plug Award was presented to Jack Tuszynski with Family Life Publications. Outgoing 2016 Leadership Cherokee Chair, Katie Wise of LGE Community Credit Union, was recognized by Incoming Chair, Heath Tippens with the Cherokee Office of Economic Development.

The Leadership Cherokee program kicked-off with a retreat where the group participated in both indoor and outdoor team building exercises that enabled them to learn not only about each other, but themselves through a look at personality types and communication styles. Over the course of the nine month period, Leadership Cherokee exposed the group of existing and emerging leaders to a broad range of sessions that focused on topics such as economic development, infrastructure, government, justice, arts, education, recreation, tourism, public safety, healthcare and social/human services.

The nomination deadline for the Leadership Cherokee Class of 2017 is October 1st. For information on the Leadership Cherokee Class of 2017 contact the Chamber office at 770-345-0400 or visit the Chamber’s website, CherokeeChamber.com.

(originally printed by the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce)

Keep the donor card after reaching 65 – It is never too late to give the gift of life.

Many of our elderly clients believe that they are too old to be an organ donor. In general, most are mistaken. There may be other reasons that prevent someone from being an organ donor, but age alone is not one of them. There are reports of a 90-year-old who, after dying suddenly, donated her liver to someone that would not otherwise have seen his 61st birthday. For both families, this became a reason for celebration.

It is estimated that organ donation by older Americans has declined by 10% from a decade ago. Every day many people, young and older, die while on an organ donation waiting list. Georgia’s Advance Directive for Health Care enables you to empower your health care agent to permit organ donation. You may also express your desire on your driver’s license or consider using the online registration at Donate Life Georgia or Donate Life America to be entered in the state or national registries.

If you wish to be an organ donor, please discuss this with your family and make sure that your wishes are clearly expressed in all of your legal documents.

Welcome, Rachel D. Conley, to the firm!

Thompson, Meier & King, P.C. is pleased to announce the addition of Rachel D. Conley as an associate attorney. Ms. Conley received a dual degree in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Georgia and obtained her Juris Doctorate from the Mercer University, Walter F. George School of Law. She served as a judicial intern for two judges in Macon before becoming a judicial staff attorney to Hon. David L. Cannon, Jr., in the Superior Court of Cherokee County, where she served for three years prior to joining Thompson, Meier & King. Ms. Conley concentrates her practice in the area of domestic and family law.

Thompson, Meier & King, P.C. expands

We are proud to announce Thompson, Meier & King, P.C.’s expansion with the opening of our Blue Ridge office. Thompson, Meier & King has been active in all courts in the Appalachian Circuit since the firm’s inception and has received various awards and recognition within the legal community. It will be our pleasure to be able to better serve clients and the communities in Gilmer and Fannin Counties through our new location of 730 East Second Street, Suite 105, Blue Ridge, Georgia. Please call us for further information or to schedule your appointment.

Two of our attorneys helped coach Mock Trial

The Cherokee High School Mock Trial had another successful year competing against high schools across North Georgia. This year’s team was coached by Judge David Cannon, Jr., Ashley Carlile, Esq. and Cynthia Propst, Esq. The mock trial team placed third in this year’s Regional Mock Trial Competition, held at the Bartow County Courthouse on January 30th, 2016. The team also won three outstanding attorney awards and four outstanding witness awards at the Regional Competition. As a result of the win, the team advanced to the District Competition, which took place on January 27th, 2016 at the Bartow County Courthouse. The team advanced past the first level of the District Competition but was ultimately eliminated in the second round of the single elimination competition. The team still managed to bring home one attorney award and one witness award from the competition.

Mediation a wise alternative

Dana Thompson

The Cherokee Board of Commissioners has proclaimed this week “Mediation Week in Cherokee County.” Along with the American Bar Association, our commissioners are raising awareness of the process of mediation (not to be confused with meditation) as an effective and efficient way of resolving disputes, expediting justice, relieving court congestion and preventing costly delays in the justice system.

Most lawsuits settle before going to court. Often, though, the parties have made an enormous financial and emotional investment in the dispute before it is resolved. Trials are unavoidable in some cases, but fortunately, other means of settling conflicts have become more common.

In 1990, the Supreme Court of Georgia established a Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution to implement a statewide alternative dispute resolution system. In 1993, the Office of Dispute Resolution for the 9th Judicial Administrative District (a 14-county area in north Georgia, of which Cherokee is a part) was established and our judges, who supported the establishment of the office, have since ordered or encouraged parties to participate in mediation prior to a final hearing in their cases.

Ten years after the establishment of the office, approximately 1,930 cases were referred to mediation. Last year, the District ADR office received over 6,500 referrals.

This column will address some frequently asked questions about mediation.

Q. What is mediation?

A. Mediation is a process in which disputing parties select a neutral third party to facilitate a mutually beneficial, negotiated settlement. Unlike arbitration, a mediator does not render a judgement which is binding on the parties. An informal and non-adversarial process, its objective is to help the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

Q. What is the role of the mediator?

A. Most mediators provide an environment which encourages open, constructive communication between the parties. Mediators are trained to assist the participants in identifying issues and interests, explore possible bases and avenues for settlement, and help the parties reach a voluntary agreement that is acceptable to both parties.

Q. Why mediate a case?

A. Mediation has several advantages, particularly when utilized early in a conflict.

Flexibility. No one is more familiar with the specific circumstances of a case than the parties involved, which means that the parties are in the best position to craft an agreement that best suits their needs. The parties are not limited to standard damages or remedies, and the mediator will encourage consideration of a wide range of options. Mediation produces innovative solutions.

Cost effective. If a matter settles, further expenses of litigation can be avoided. If the matter does not settle, the financial investment in mediation is usually minimal compared to the cost of extended litigation, and the parties generally have a better understanding of their cases and the position of the other side.

Efficient. Parties are often frustrated by the time it takes to resolve a case. Mediation puts the process in the control of the parties, who choose the mediator, set the meetings and prescribe the terms of the settlement.

Confidential. Mediations are conducted in private, removing the dispute from the public eye. Prior to mediation, participants must sign a confidentiality agreement which provides that all communications made by the parties during the process will be kept confidential. Also, if desired, the settlement agreement itself may, under certain circumstances, remain confidential.

Supports Relationships. Disputes often involve family members, parties to a business relationship, or parties to whom a continuing relationship is important. Divorcing parents, with the strong encouragement of the courts, are frequent participants in mediation. Mediation reduces hostility and is more likely to preserve, or at least prevent the destruction of relationships between the parties and allows communication in the future.

Q. How successful is mediation?

A. In general, the process has a very good track record.

Q. Is mediation used only in lawsuits?

A. No. Mediation is increasingly being used as a means of addressing conflicts before they rise to the level of a lawsuit. Many commercial contracts include mandatory mediation in the event of a dispute. Businesses have established mediation programs to deal with co-workers disputes, unfair employment practices, harassment, discrimination, and other employment related issues. Government agencies are being required to implement mediation or other ADR programs. Schools have developed programs which teach and enable children to mediate conflicts between students. Individuals are calling upon mediators to help them resolve conflicts. Recognition of the heavy cost of litigation has made mediation a popular alternative.

More on mediation can be found at www.adr9.com or godr.org.

Dana M. Thompson is an attorney with the Canton firm Thompson, Meier & King. She is a certified mediator with the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution and the Ninth Judicial District Office of Dispute Resolution. One of the first mediators in Georgia, Ms. Thompson has mediated cases since 1993 and also serves as a Special Assistant Attorney General.

Law Day Awards

The State Bar of Georgia recently awarded the Blue Ridge Bar Association the Award of Merit, Law Day Award, Best Newsletter and Best Website.

Lauren Keller and Cynthia Propst of Thompson, Meier and King were among the award recipients for their participation in the 2014-2015 Law Day Committee.   As part of the Law Day Committee, Lauren and Cynthia helped lead two service projects in the community, an Easter Egg Hunt with the Cherokee Family Violence Center and a volunteer day at Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, and collected donations for Georgia’s Annual Legal Food Frenzy, which benefitted the Georgia Food Bank Association.  The Law Day Committee also helped to organize the Law Day luncheon and created a scrapbook memorializing all of the great local events from the past year.

The Law Day Award, along with all awards received by the Blue Ridge Bar Association, are on display at the Law Library in the Cherokee County Justice Center.

Patricia King now a registered neutral with GAOC and Commission on Dispute Resolution

trish-kingThompson, Meier & King is pleased to announce that the firm has another mediator among the partners.  Patricia “Trish” King is now a registered neutral with the Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts and the Commission on Dispute Resolution, following 90 hours of training through Henning Mediation and Arbitration Services, Inc., with an emphasis on Domestic Mediation.  Trish brings to her skill as a mediator over 25 years of extensive experience in family law, having concentrated her practice throughout her career in child custody and visitation, divorce, property division, separation issues, child support, alimony, modification actions, enforcement of court orders, pre and postnuptial agreements, paternity and legitimation, adoption and child welfare.  Over her career, Trish has represented parties, including as an advocate for children, in numerous mediations and knows from a litigant’s standpoint the benefits of mediating.  She looks forward to utilizing her experience in assisting the parties in their efforts to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution to their dispute.