Saturday, March 22, 2008

Marin County Superior Courts embrace Mediation

Mediation a key part of Marin courts
Staff Report
Article Launched: 03/21/2008 12:07:30 AM PDT

Verna Adams and Kim Turner

MEDIATION IS A form of alternative dispute resolution that aims to assist two (or more) disputants in reaching an agreement, according to Wikipedia. The conditions of that agreement is what the parties determine, rather than accepting terms imposed by a judge or other third party.

In Marin, our court offers many opportunities for mediation as an alternative to litigation. Assisted by volunteer attorneys, mental health professionals, accountants and others, people with disputes are brought together and solutions found. Disputes that can be mediated may involve just about anyone. Government agencies, businesses, local groups and individuals often elect to use mediation, rather than the more adversarial approaches in traditional court hearings.

In our court system, all civil, probate and family law disputes can be mediated. Such matters include child custody and visitation, neighborhood conflicts (everything from property lines to barking dogs), inheritance issues, landlord-tenant disagreements and more. We are proud to report that mediation in Marin is a stunning success.

In 2007, our Family Court Services division offered mediation to families with custody and visitation issues in 544 cases. Many were settled at that point, without ever going before a judicial officer. For cases that did not settle, the court offered further custody and visitation mediation, staffed by a judicial officer and volunteer mediators and mental health professionals.
Ninety-eight percent of those cases settled.

Mediation long has been part of our civil court system in Marin. Because of its success, recently we expanded these services to probate proceedings so parties involved in litigation relating to probate or will contests can work toward solutions that are beneficial to all. These mediation conferences are conducted by a judicial officer and two volunteer, experienced probate attorneys.

Mediation is also part of the juvenile criminal justice system. For nonviolent offenders, volunteers help bring the victim and the offender together so that restitution can be made and the young offender rehabilitated. This approach, called restorative justice, offers a proven strategy to redirect the behavior of youthful offenders who often do not consider that their crimes cause harm to real victims. It may be our best opportunity to dissuade juvenile offenders from engaging in more serious criminal activities.

These programs would not be possible without the generous participation of hundreds of volunteers. At the Marin County Bar Association meeting on Wednesday, we will recognize 146 attorneys who have volunteered their services to those who cannot afford representation during the past year. The court has a panel of 358 attorneys who serve on our mediation panels.
As a result of this work, few civil, probate or family law cases go to trial. Instead, the parties find a mutually agreeable compromise in a process that is cheaper, quicker and much less stressful than litigation.

In addition to the mediation work that takes place inside the courthouse, other agencies provide mediation services:

- Marin Mediation Services, 30 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael (499-7454).
- Marin County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, 30 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael (499-1314).
- Marin District Attorney's Office, Consumer Protection Unit (499-6450).
- Legal Self-Help Center of Marin, 30 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael (492-1111).
- Department of Consumer Affairs, (916-574-822).
A Texas Law Review article, "A glass half full," may have said it best. Mediation is "better (than litigation) ... more accessible and understandable to the layperson, less adversarial, expensive and time-consuming, and more likely to produce an outcome that matches the interests of the disputants."
The Judicial Council of California has declared March 17 to 24 to be Mediation Week. Join us in saluting the hundreds of volunteers who work tirelessly and effectively to assist the people of Marin with all their problems, large and small.
Verna Adams is presiding judge and Kim Turner is executive officer of Marin County Superior Court.

Jim W Hildreth
Mediating Real Estate Disputes

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