Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a round table discussion with Honorable Judge Diane Brenneman who presides over Small Claims cases in D.C. Superior Court where I mediate. She often refers cases to mediation so that the parties can try to resolve their dispute collaboratively around a table in lieu of holding a trial in the courtroom. Our judge is wonderful, and I wanted to share some of her wisdom:
• Typically there are 10,000 cases per year in the Small Claims Division although 2015 is a little slow -- a lot of cases for one judge to handle!
• Multidoor Dispute Resolution, located in D.C. Superior Court, is the best court based mediation program in the entire country. We train courts in other countries. The best thing we have in the Small Claims Division is mediation.
• In mediation there is a 65% chance of coming to an agreement; in trial there is a 25% chance of success. In a trial, the plaintiff must prove the facts to the judge.
• Here is why people lose in court: (1) plaintiffs don't prove the facts; (2) there is no law on the books governing a plaintiff's particular situation; (3) plaintiffs are suing the wrong defendants; and (4) plaintiffs don't show up to court.
• Judge Brenneman's job in Small Claims is about ruling on money matters only. Disputes are usually about more than just money. Judge Brenneman tells the parties in court, "This is your last chance to be in control of your case. You know your case and knowledge is power. Take that power into mediation. An agreement between two citizens is recognized throughout the land. And -- you don't have to prove anything to me."
• She goes on to tell the parties, "Come to me for trial and you will have no power. The Judge has all the power. I will decide your case and move on to the next case."
Wouldn't you rather have all the power than give it all away?
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.