There are better ways to resolve a dispute than going to court, says Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman.
In a courtroom, either a judge or a jury imposes a solution to the conflicting parties by saying, "You win. You lose." The law tends to settle disputes in terms of money, giving to one and taking away from another.Compromise - instead of litigation - is a superior method of resolving conflicts, the Supreme Court justice contends.
To encourage alternative ways of dispute resolution, Utahns have generously contributed more than $2 million for the construction of the Utah Law and Justice Center. The center, located at 645 S. Second East, will be dedicated Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.
The dedication marks a new era in the state's justice system. In a litigious age, Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR, may be the most significant trend in the legal field in decades, Zimmerman told the Deseret News.
The first-of-its-kind center has gained national attention. In congratulatory letters, President Ronald Reagan praises Utahns for our "foresight and dedication" and United Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist says Utah sets "a fine example" for the nation by providing more accessible and effective justice.
Simply put, ADR is defined by Zimmerman as "any method of resolving dispute short of going to court."
The modern facility provides meeting rooms and support staff for all types of dispute resolution. The center is also home for the administrative offices of the Utah State Bar, the Utah Bar Foundation and the Utah office of the American Arbitration Association.
Alternatives to the courtroom are an effective way of settling problems ranging
rom landlord/tenant disputes to community groups bitterly fighting over the construction of a road.
"If two parties who have differences can meet together and help craft a solution to the problem - instead of having it imposed upon them - the relationship between the two is more likely to be improved over time," he said.
Five years ago, leaders of the Utah State Bar realized the critical need for a center where people could meet on neutral territory to solve problems.
The modern facility progressed from concept to construction because of contributions by more than 1,200 attorneys, major law firms, judges and private individuals and foundations. Matching federal grants and money from the sale of the bar's previous home comprised the remaining funds of the $3.2 million center.
No tax dollars have been used in the construction project and will not be for future maintenance and operation.
The mediation concept of the center can be illustrated with this scenario, said Zimmerman:
A barking dog is disrupting the neighborhood. The neighbors call the police and the officers issue a citation. The angry neighbors go to court. The owners of the dog are fined, but that does not stop the barking dog. The bitterness between the neighbors deepens.
If, on the other hand, the parties talk about the problem in the neutral environment of the Utah Law and Justice Center and work the problem out with a professional mediator, then there is a much better chance of an agreeable, long-term solution.
The same principle applies to more complex disagreements involving a consumer with a complaint against a business or corporations in dispute over a contract, he said.
Rooms in the new facility will accommodate scheduling 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Solutions to problems may be more immediate, instead of waiting for a court hearing, said Zimmerman.
In an arbitration disputing parties agree to have an expert in the area of conflict act as a decision maker and agree to be bound by the arbitrator's award.
Additional alternatives to court are conciliation, balloting and negotiation.
While other states are turning to ADR because it can take up four years to get a court date, Utah jurists are promoting the idea primarily because it provides "a better quality of justice." In Utah, the time required for a case to go to court is minimal, the Supreme Court justice said.
Realizing the expense of a drawn- out litigation, Zimmerman and his colleagues on the bench believe that ADR has the potential of providing fair, efficient and economical justice to those who find they can't afford to pursue court action.
The "Tuesday Night Bar" is a program that will benefit a segment of the community generally denied professional legal assistance. Individuals may make an appointment to meet with a volunteer attorney or a law student (under the supervision of an attorney) for consultation or legal "first aid."
And through the Lawyer Referral Service, lawyers provide consultation for a $15 fee.
Because of an attorney's ethical responsibility to represent the best interest of clients, the Utah State Bar "heartily endorses" the justice center, says Kent Kasting, bar president.
"This is obviously not going to line the pockets of attorneys. But lawyers will have more satisfied clients," he said.
There are more than 5,000 members of the Utah State Bar. Over one-third voluntarily contributed an average of $1,500 to the building of the center - in addition to their regular bar dues, said Kasting.
Kasting, a family law attorney, appreciates the value of providing neutral territory for persons involved in any conflict - but particularly in domestic relations.
Often when Kasting calls an attorney to set up an appointment to discuss resolving a divorce case, the first question asked is, "In whose office are we going to meet?" Each spouse feels they lose some advantage by meeting on the other's territory.
"With a little guidance, many people who previously had the expense and emotional drain of going to court will be able to solve their own problems within the professional, accommodating atmosphere of the justice center."