Turning to the courts to resolve disagreements is sometimes like shooting flies with a shotgun.
Often, more would be accomplished if people turned to each other - with the guidance of a mediator or arbitrator - to talk out their problems, says Sen. Frances Farley, D-Salt Lake. That way, disagreements don't evolve into major court battles."Sometimes people don't know what to do to resolve a conflict - except to go to court. Mediation spares people the emotional and financial trauma of confronting each other within the formal walls of a courtroom.
"Compromise eliminates the kind of anger people feel when a judge tells them, `You will do this.' "
Farley is a member of a citizens advisory board for the newly dedicated Utah Law and Justice Center. The committee, comprised of social workers, attorneys, judges, law professors and religious leaders, is establishing programs to help Utahns solve their problems outside the courtroom.
The 13 members want the center at 645 S. Second East to be useful to Utahns throughout the state. They want Utahns to let them know what can be done to facilitate conflict-solving. Their goal is to provide humane, efficient and economical resolutions available to all Utahns.
In her eight years as a legislator, the justice center is one of the most exciting and useful projects she's supported, said Farley.
The court process tends to be outcome oriented instead of relationship oriented. Strained relationships - between neighbors, arguing spouses, parents and their children - can be spared by discussing problems with the help of a disinterested third party in the comfortable setting of the justice center, she said.
Before the justice center was built, many parents struggling with troubled teenagers turned to the juvenile court system to intervene.
Farley recalls a 14-year-old boy who was placed in a lockup facility because his parents didn't know how to handle him.
"The youngster shouldn't have been placed there. He was the youngest and smallest kid in the facility. He was afraid to sleep at night because he thought he would be beaten," she said.
Parents who aren't sure how to communicate with a teenager who is running away may call Julie Smiley at 531-9077, reserve a conference room and receive the immediate assistance of a mediator or arbitrator. The center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at minimal or no cost to the public.
"It's much better if someone can help families work out their own problems," said Farley. "Talking with each other under some rules (such as no interrupting and no shouting) could prevent many teenagers from landing in juvenile court."
Gerald R. Williams, professor at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, was recently elected as president of the justice center's advisory board.
"The question in a courtroom is a matter of guilt and punishment. Mediation focuses on the `why?' behind a person's behavior.
"If parents meet with their runaway teenager at the justice center, the conversation will be focused on why the teenager ran away," Williams said.
Jurists across the nation are watching Utah's Law and Justice Center because it is the first of its kind in the nation. It is unusual that attorneys would contribute so generously to the construction of the $3.2 million center and encourage alternative dispute resolutions so enthusiastically, said Williams.
The courts are rigid and structured. Mediation and arbitration focus on flexibility. "The best justice is to do what is most compatible to the needs of the people," he said.