A group of local judges, lawyers and trained mediators form a program to help reduce the cost of litigation.
By Bridget Graham-Gungoren/Special to the Malibu Times
A committee of local volunteers, consisting of judges, lawyers and trained mediators, has created a new independent mediation program in Malibu designed to save the residents and the city of Malibu money.
Burton Katz, a retired Superior Court judge and a columnist for The Malibu Times, is a member of the committee. Katz said the program “provides the community with a place to find solutions without expending their own money or draining the Malibu treasury.”
In addition to saving money, a mediation program can also help avoid disputes that could end up with continuing friction between neighbors, or worse, ending in violence.
Through the process of mediation, individuals would solve their disputes by finding their own solutions with the help of a trained mediator. Retired attorney David Kagon, another member of the committee, said he supports the program because mediation offers many benefits. “Litigation can go on for months and years,” Kagon said, “and financially [it] can be expensive. Litigation can also bring a lot of emotional trauma.”
The cost of this new program for the participants will only be administrative-postage and telephone-if any. “More than 80 percent of cases end up in court-appointed mediation anyway and are resolved outside of court,” Kagon said. “This program is a way to save that money.” Disputes suitable for the mediation program include those involving landlord / tenant, property, personal injury, workplace and consumer issues. Residents can also have disputes with the city mediated. (Although the program is primarily designed for Malibu residents, mediation members say it can also include those living outside city limits and there are no eligibility requirements.)
Local attorneys and city officials said they support the program and are willing to participate as a party in the process, up to the extent permitted by law. Malibu City Manager Katie Lichtig said, “The city is open to finding unique solutions that prove to be useful in solving disputes.”
City Attorney Christi Hogin said she is very excited about the program. She cited an example from a couple of years ago when she was city manager about the benefits of mediation. Hogin explained that a Malibu resident owned property zoned for residential but wanted to develop it commercially. He felt that the city was treating him unfairly and wanted to file a lawsuit. Both parties entered into voluntary mediation and hired a mediator, which resulted positively for both parties and the city. Hogin said that the city could have won the lawsuit, but chose to mediate for the benefit of Malibu. “Victories in court aren’t really victories when the goal is to try to build a community,” Hogin said.
Mayor Sharon Barvosky agreed. “We certainly support it [the mediation program,] if we can settle amicably before it gets out of hand,” she said, “and without a lawsuit, it can only help the entire community.”
The avoidance of lawsuits and financial expenditure was the goal behind the committee’s formation for the program. Attorney Jeff Kramer, former mayor of Malibu and a supporter of the program, said, “Litigation is time, money and can be very unpredictable; the ultimate outcome is in someone else’s hands who may or may not like your case.”
Kramer said that if mediation is done successfully, “the resolution is quick, parties have control over the outcome, and there is certainty in decisions.”
In this program, the mediators are volunteers with legal backgrounds, Pepperdine master’s program students trained in mediation, or the parties can choose their own mediator. At any time, a different mediator can be selected if one party feels bias or if they feel that the mediator has an inability to guide the parties during mediation. There can also be more than one mediator if the parties so choose.
Mediation is different from arbitration, a form of litigation involving mediation where the mediator is chosen for the parties, but the final outcome is left to the arbitrator. In mediation, parties select their own mediator, an impartial third party that facilitates the process. The mediator and the parties meet, with or without their lawyers, to air their grievances and find a common ground that they both can live with to settle the dispute. “When the parties involved in a dispute find their own solution, they are more likely to feel satisfied and comply with the outcome,” Kagon said.
Katz agreed. “Mediation gives the parties a personal stake in the settlement because they are part of the process,” he said.
In support of the program, the city has designated a number to call for a referral to the coordinator, as well as posting the information on the city Web site. Those interested in solving disputes through mediation can contact the receptionist at 310.456.2489 for more information.