Local businesses 'Adopt-a-Court' to help state judiciary expand Hawaii’s mediation services

Local businesses “Adopt-a-Court” to help state judiciary expand Hawaii’s mediation services
Published: Oct. 3, 2016 at 2:08 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 3, 2016 at 2:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As part of its ongoing efforts to improve access to justice in Hawaii, the Hawaii State Judiciary is partnering with The Mediation Center of the Pacific (MCP) in an innovative program to help expand the availability of mediation services in the islands.  The MCP's Adopt-A-Court Program provides opportunities for local businesses to "adopt" a district court and have members of their management team trained to serve as volunteer mediators for small claims and summary possession cases.

The Adopt-A-Court Program was created by the Mediation Center of the Pacific in 2014 to expand the pool of mediators in the district courts throughout Oahu.  To date, the Mediation Center has recruited two companies to participate in the Adopt-A-Court Program.  The Islander Group adopted the Wahiawa District Court and Hawaiian Cement adopted the Ewa District Court.

"The Mediation Center of the Pacific is extremely grateful to the Islander Group and Hawaiian Cement for their participation in this initiative," said Tracey Wiltgen, Executive Director of the Mediation Center of the Pacific.  "Adopt-A-Court is a real win for everyone. The businesses are providing a valuable community service, employees get training that benefits their company, the managers learn mediation and negotiation skills they need for success in the workplace, and the Mediation Center's capacity to provide mediation services is greatly expanded.  Over the past two years this program has helped hundreds of people resolve their disputes and avoid litigation."

Mediation is a dispute resolution process where an impartial mediator (a "neutral") helps guide the parties to resolve part or all of a dispute voluntarily, informally, and confidentially.  Unlike litigation or binding arbitration where decision-making rests in the hands of a judge, jury, or arbitrator, the parties in mediation retain control over the terms of any agreement reached.

Resolution of cases through mediation is advantageous to not only the settling parties, but to the courts, and taxpayers as well.  Settling parties benefit through private resolution of their cases without the uncertainty, stress, time, and expense often involved in litigation.  Reducing the courts' caseload allows the courts to resolve other cases more quickly and to decrease case processing time.  This promotes speedier resolution of those cases that remain before the court, which in turn benefits the broader community.

Currently the Adopt-A-Court Program is available only on Oahu.  Businesses that are interested in becoming an Adopt-A-Court partner are asked to identify the district courthouse they wish to adopt (Honolulu, Ewa, Kapolei, Wahiawa, or Kaneohe) and commit to participating in the program for a minimum of eighteen months.

The partner business then designates three to four members of its management team to participate in a two-day mediation training conducted at the Mediation Center of the Pacific, where they learn and/or sharpen their mediation and negotiation skills.  One-on-one mentoring is provided by experienced court mediators.  When the training is complete, the managers volunteer as court mediators one morning or afternoon each week.

In addition to the services provided by the Adopt-A-Court Program business partners, the public may also seek assistance from private mediators, community mediation centers (collectively known as the Mediation Centers of Hawaii: The Mediation Center of the Pacific (Oahu), Maui Mediation Services (Maui), Kauai Economic Opportunity Mediation Services (Kauai), Ku'ikahi Mediation Center (Hilo), West Hawaii Mediation Center (Kamuela)), and the Hawaii State Judiciary's Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (CADR).

"The law does not always provide practical solutions for every problem," notes CADR Director Cecelia Chang, Esq.  "The best solutions are crafted by those who know the issues best, the parties themselves.  Mediators help the parties in a case explore creative solutions and come to an agreement tailored to their needs."

The Judiciary and the Mediation Centers of Hawaii provide on-site mediation services at court or at the mediation centers themselves for all small claims and residential landlord-tenant cases statewide.

For cases on appeal, the Judiciary's Appellate Mediation Program (AMP), administered by the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, offers mediation in selected civil cases.  Retired judges and attorneys appointed by the Supreme Court serve as volunteer mediators.  The appeal is temporarily stayed during the mediation.  A variety of cases are resolved through the program, including foreclosure, landlord-tenant, business, and divorce cases.

"We encourage parties in litigation to ask their attorney if mediation is a possibility for their situation," says CADR Director Cecelia Chang.  "While conflict may be a part of life, mediation can open the door to early and workable solutions."

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