It comes up all the time: two parties who can’t be in the same room for more than 10 minutes without coming close to blows, but don’t have the money to continue to fund the litigation; the client who, no matter how many times you explain logically and rationally that their position makes no sense, refuses to change it; the client who figured out the value of their case with little or no input from you and refuses to budge, etc., etc., etc. These situations cry out for mediation – a process involving a dispassionate third party who listens attentively to what parties are saying (and not saying) and then works with them and their counsel to put the dispute to rest.
The Contra Costa Superior Court maintains a list of more than 300 highly skilled mediators, all of whom have specialized training. Most are accepted onto the panel after completion of 40 hours of mediation training. If they have not completed a 40 hour training, they are accepted only after their work experience and other qualifications have been reviewed by a committee composed of experienced mediators and the Supervising Civil Judge. Once accepted onto the panel, all mediators are required to take mandatory continuing education classes. Specialized training on how to work successfully with self-represented litigants is required on an ongoing basis. Many of the mediators are also licensed attorneys with years of legal experience. Others are accounting, real estate, construction or other professionals.
All mediators on the Court’s panel have agreed to provide 30 minutes of preparation time and two hours of mediation time at no cost to the parties. This time allows counsel and the parties to get to know the mediator and get a sense of the benefits of mediation. Preparation for mediation is minimal, as all that is required is a brief statement of legal and factual issues in the case and previous attempts at settlement. The Court’s panel includes mediators with offices in Martinez, Concord, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Oakland and San Francisco, so it is easy to find a convenient location.
Overall, more than half of cases referred to mediation achieve a full or partial settlement. For certain types of cases, the settlement rate is much higher. For example, in calendar year 2016, 82% of real property cases referred to mediation reached a full settlement, while 55% of personal injury cases reached a full or partial resolution. Much of the success of the process is reflected in the enthusiasm expressed in evaluation surveys completed by parties after they have been through the process. These surveys include comments such as, “the mediator really listened to what I had to say” and, “I had all but given up on this case, but our mediator was endlessly patient and eventually got the parties to agree.”
Mediation through the Alternative Dispute Resolution office is available at no cost to parties in all civil unlimited jurisdiction cases in Contra Costa County. A list of mediators is available on the Court’s website www.cc-courts.org/civil; just look under the heading for “Court Process and Information” and click on the link for “Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Programs.” Additional information about the mediators, including their particular areas of expertise and fees, is available by calling the ADR office at (925) 608-2031 or by checking the spreadsheet that is posted on the court’s website.
Once the parties have selected a mediator, a completed mediator Selection Form (ADR-201) is submitted to the ADR office. Bench officers can routinely be relied upon to allow parties the time they need to complete mediation. Parties also have the satisfaction of asserting some control over the eventual result in the case.
SO – if you are at your wits’ end – consider trying one of our mediators. These trained professionals can not only help you keep your sanity, but they will also help you achieve a result that satisfies your client and, usually, saves them money.
 If mediation is not right for your dispute, consider using one of the other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Information on all of the Contra Costa County Superior Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution programs can be found online at http://www.cc-courts.org/civil/alternative-dispute-resolution.aspx.
Magda Lopez worked as a civil litigator for over 20 years before joining the Contra Costa County Superior Court. She is a Certified Mediator and the Administrator of the Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs.
Filed Under: Spotlight