March 2016 Bar Bulletin
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Dispute Resolution Center May Be Your Client’s Best Option

By Judge John Ruhl

 

What can you do when you see that your client’s legal fees very likely will exceed the amount at stake in a case? Your best advice may be to refer your client to the Dispute Resolution Center of King County.

The Center launched its operations 30 years ago this month, based on the recommendation of a multi-disciplinary task force of the then-Seattle-King County Bar Association. Since then, the Center has grown to become one of the most effective alternate dispute resolution resources for King County residents.

“I hope lawyers will tell their clients to explore the Dispute Resolution Center as an option before going to court,” said King County District Court Chief Presiding Judge Donna Tucker. “It’s an affordable option, as they use a sliding fee scale, and if it doesn’t work, there is always the court option.”

Lawyers are welcome to participate in their clients’ mediations at the Center, said Teri Thomson Randall, the Center’s executive director. Although clients are asked to speak for themselves during mediations, either the lawyers or their clients can call a private caucus at any time. Regardless of whether a client’s lawyer participates in the mediation, the Center will direct the individual back to their lawyer after the mediation to review and finalize the paperwork.

Wide Variety of Cases Handled

The Center provides mediation and telephone conciliation services in a wide variety of civil areas, including landlord/tenant cases, divorce parenting plans, neighbor disputes, merchant/consumer cases and workplace disputes.

Since 2014, the Center also has provided mediation services to select anti-
harassment cases referred by District Court judges. Randall said that many of these challenging cases involve blended families or neighbors whose disputes have escalated to the point of an anti-
harassment petition.

Effective Alternative

During 2015, the Center provided mediation services in roughly 750 small claims court cases and 40 anti-
harassment cases, taking that load off the courts, Randall said.

The Center also provides mediation, telephone conciliation and conflict coaching services to individuals who contact the Center on their own or at the suggestion of their attorney. Mediations are provided at the Center’s office in Wallingford, at Green River College and at the municipal courthouse in Federal Way.

Seventy-five percent of the Center’s mediations are successfully resolved, Randall said.

Pursuant to Chapter 7.75 RCW, the Center’s services are free or charges are assessed on a sliding scale in most cases, and any applicable statute of limitations is tolled while the mediation process is pending. As in other cases under ER 408, statements made during mediations are confidential and cannot be used in any later court proceedings.

More Flexible Solutions

King County District Court Judge Eileen Kato said she is a “huge fan” of the Center. She tells litigants that negotiated settlements allow them maximum control and flexibility.

“The parties can negotiate any type of settlement that they think is fair and equitable, including installment plans and even non-monetary conditions,” she said. “But if they throw themselves at the mercy of the court, the judge won’t be able to grant them any relief that doesn’t have a dollar sign attached to it.”

Judge Kato said that parties who settle through mediation generally are much more satisfied with the results than if they were to proceed to trial without the evidence and skills necessary to prove their case. And attempting to collect on a judgment is much more expensive — and much less likely to succeed — than implementing a settlement agreement, she said.

Well-Trained Mediators

The Center provides services through its core of paid staff members and more than 100 trained volunteer mediators and four telephone conciliators.


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