A push for mediation Alternatives to trial: Bill would encourage avoiding the courtroom.

March 07, 1997

AS CROWDED courts and the expense of litigation push more people toward alternatives, the mediation of disputes is gaining popularity. Last fall's report from the Commission on the Future of Maryland Courts strongly urged that Maryland find ways to encourage this trend.

A bill now before the General Assembly would do that by requiring that all domestic cases go to mediation; currently, only contested child custody cases must be put before a mediator. The proposal would also set standards for training mediators and would create a board to supervise the content of training and certify mediators.

Some people would prefer that the court system undertake this responsibility. The fact is that the courts have had ample opportunity, but have failed to do so.

Other objections are coming from bar associations. Naturally, lawyers would prefer to keep mediation and arbitration work for themselves. They point out that the courts have disciplinary authority over lawyers, but would not have the same degree of control over non-lawyers. They also suggest that parties to a dispute ought to have the benefit of someone with extensive knowledge of the court system and the substance of the law. But experience here and in other states doesn't support those objections. There are many areas of the law -- such as environmental issues or construction disputes -- where experts in those fields may be more competent to judge the substance of the questions than a lawyer.

Mediation has proven to be a useful tool for settling disputes, often producing win-win solutions for both parties rather than court decisions in which one party must lose. It's no surprise, then, that parties who reach a settlement through mediation are happier with the result and are more likely to comply with the decision than those who resort to litigation. This bill would encourage more mediation -- and that's a win-win situation for both the courts and the parties involved.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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