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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - September 2007

Your neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking. Your mechanic charges you for more work than you believe was completed. Your tenant won’t pay the rent on time or your landlord won’t make reasonable repairs. Disputes between parties not quickly resolved tend to end up in court or can fester, often leading to greater problems.

Conflicts between neighbors have existed as long as humans. In early times, religious leaders acted as arbiters of disagreements. As groupings of people grew into communities, processes were established to resolve conflicts between countrymen. The use of mediation to settle disputes dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. People who were trusted and respected by all parties mediated disputes ranging from theft to issues of commerce. Over the years, nations established formal justice systems where disputes were decided and enforced by governments.

By the latter half of the 20th century, courts at all levels were overwhelmed by a backlog of cases. Court backlogs have delayed justice and increased litigation costs to the point of not being a viable method for resolving many disputes. In 1965, a Presidential Commission directed to study the court system recommended that some cases should be diverted from the courts. New mediation guidelines allowed retired judges, attorneys, and law students to arbitrate disagreements more quickly and at less cost.

Austin Dispute Resolution Center (ADR) was founded in 1983 to help people resolve a variety of issues: neighborhood (zoning), pre-and post-divorce, real estate, landlord/tenant, consumer/merchant, employer/employee, business and small claims, and parent/adolescent. ADR’s goals include providing more appropriate processes for certain types of cases, providing a case resolution process that is less costly and more accessible for people, and reducing court caseloads. Mediation sessions cost $35 for each party, typically last up to four hours, and can be scheduled within 10 to 14 days. Parties must agree to mediate. Mediators do not make judgments, express opinions, or give legal advice. They facilitate communication so the parties can find a solution of their own. ADR mediators conduct about 1,000 mediations per year and report that 85% of mediations are successful. ADR also offers basic mediation training (40 hours), advanced family mediation training (30 hours) and customized training (up to 2 days) for individuals who are interested in becoming state certified mediators. Travis County judges, in an effort to reduce the number of trials and encourage outcomes agreed to by all parties, routinely require mediations for certain types of cases to be conducted before litigation can occur. Dispute Resolution Center staff can be reached at 371-0033 or www.austindrc.org.

The Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution (CPPDR) at the University of Texas also provides dispute resolution services for governmental entities, policymakers, and others involved in public policy disputes. CPPDR maintains a website about dispute resolution issues at cppdr@law.utexas.edu.



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