Mediation Week in Cherokee County

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

trish-king
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.

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.