It was reported by the media that “Mediation Week” was observed in Alabama last month. Some seem to believe that mediation is a potential remedy for the overloaded court dockets in our state. The Alabama Bar Association declared October 16 through October 20 as “Mediation Week.” Gov. Robert Bentley issued a proclamation naming Friday, October 21st as “Mediation Day” in Alabama. The enthusiasm for mediation was said to be inspired in large part by economics as the state’s court system struggles with cutbacks and layoffs. I really don’t believe mediation is the solution to correcting the severe problems caused by an underfunded court system, but it should help some in the short run.
While most lawyers are familiar with how mediation works, most non-lawyers probably have very little knowledge about mediation. When a case goes to mediation, a neutral third party works to help the two sides reach their own settlement agreement rather than leaving the outcome up to a judge or jury. The mediator has no power or authority; he or she is really just a person who applies common sense and persuasion to get opposing parties to agree on a settlement. According to Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Tracy McCooey, mediation helps clear court dockets, but it also helps the people involved come to a satisfactory settlement. She observed:
It resolves things a lot quicker. Mediation is a wonderful thing as often as you can use it. Mediation is most often employed for civil cases, although the court more recently has begun to use it more often in certain criminal cases. Misdemeanor cases often are referred from city court for mediation.
Judy Keegan is the executive director of the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution. She has championed the use of mediation since the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution was created by order of the Alabama Supreme Court in 1994. Judy has been the director for the entire time. Since 1994, there has been a general upward trend in the use of mediation in our state. State-registered mediators reported handling 4,512 cases in 2010, with about 73 percent of those cases being settled. While that’s a very good record, I would like to know more about what type cases were involved.
Frankly, I must confess that I have mixed feelings about mediation. At first, I wasn’t for it and that was mostly because I felt so strongly about the jury system. But I have learned over time and through experience with mediation that it will work in some cases. Successful mediation really depends on the mediator and the willingness by both sides in a dispute to negotiate in good faith. Fortunately, there are some real good mediators in our state. But it’s important to understand that the mediator is neither a judge nor an arbitrator, and can’t make a party do anything.
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
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