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Mediation is a cheaper, faster, friendlier alternative to litigation. Not right for all cases, but right for many.

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This is a transcript of an online AOL forum with an AARP representative discussing arbitration and mediation.

AARP2: Mediation is a cheaper, faster, friendlier alternative to litigation. Not right for all cases, but right for many. Older persons find it especially appealing.

LRossman: What kind of cases is it appropriate for?

AARP2: Its used in a wide range - from divorce to environmental to international disputes. AARP and other aging and dispute resolution organizations have experimented with its use in disputes arising in senior residences, among family members about care for parents, nursing homes, and housing - just to name a few examples. Also, older persons make terrific mediators themselves because of their years of experience and "wisdom".

LRossman: How does it work? What steps do I take if I am unhappy with a situation?

AARP2: Its important to find a trained, experienced mediator. The mediator serves as a neutral facilitator. They don't make a decision for the parties (as does an arbitrator), but assists the parties to reach a solution that all can agree on - by giving each party opportunities to express themselves - both their perceptions and interests, and exploring creative options to resolve the dispute.

Homerclees: What is the difference between mediation and arbitration?

AARP2: A mediator assists the parties to come to an agreement that they themselves must agree toAn arbitrator serves in a judge-like role - listens to the parties in a setting more informal than a court, but the arbitrator makes a decision about who's right and who's wrong. In mediation, the parties must agree, or their is no resolution. Its much more participatory - that's one of the reasons for its success. The parties have more owner-ship over the resolution since they crafted it.

LRossman: So if I'm fighting with my neighbor about property lines, where do I find a mediator?

AARP2: Most urban communities have community mediation centers that provide services free of charge or for modest charges. Some courts also sponsor mediation programs. And there are privatemediators available.

LRossman: Is there special training to be a mediator?

AARP2: Yes - but there are no uniform requirements, which is why its' important to make surethat a mediator you select has had sufficient training. I received training from the DC Superior Court and now volunteer as a mediator there.

Homerclees: How is an arbitrator different from a judge?

AARP2: An arbitrator serves in a more informal setting than a judge - outside the courtroom.

LRossman: Is it necessary to have a background in law or will just common sense do?

AARP2: Typically, the rules of evidence do not apply - its a much less structured process. Common sense is a requirement, but not law. Many mediators are lawyers, but many are former teachers, psychologists, anyone who has the right temperament and interest, and training.

Homerclees: What is the typical cost of a mediator.

AARP2: Often the services are free - especially if you go to a community center or court-sponsored program.

LRossman: You said older persons find it particularly attractive alternative to lawsuits. Why?

Homerclees: What about an arbitrator?

AARP2: You are more likely to have to pay an arbitrator. I'm really not sure how much it costs - depends on the kind of the case and the time it takes to resolve.

LRossman: Can you give us some examples of cases you've mediated?

AARP2: I mediate a lot of personal injury cases - often involving automobile accidents.

LRossman: Sure, can you give some examples of cases you've mediated?

AARP2: Well, I've mediated auto accidents, civil rights, probate, real estate..... I should also mention that we have a new video for consumers about mediation - narrated by L.A. Law's Richard Dysart...

LRossman: How do people get the video?

AARP2: Right now they should contact Consumer Affairs. It costs $10. Eventually it will also be available for free loan from Program Resources Department.

LRossman: Is it the type of video people would want to show at a meeting or for individual use?

AARP2: I would say more for a meeting - although you could also watch it at home. It provides an introduction to the process of mediation and has three scenarios of cases

LRossman: Is mediation helping to unclog the courts?

AARP2: Yes - thats another advantage. Its cheaper and quicker for everyone, including the taxpayer!

Homerclees: Are mediated decisions binding.

AARP2: Well yes and no. If a case is mediated and one party does not abide by the agreement, the other party can still go to court to enforce the agreement, or to bring a new lawsuit.

LRossman: seems like its never-ending. Why do older persons use mediation?

AARP2: Often older persons are reluctant to go through the adversarial process in the courts. Mediation is a friendlier alternative. Its especially beneficial in cases where there is a continuing relationship - often referred to as the "shadow of the future" - for instance

Homerclees: Is the guy that is helping in the baseball strike a mediator or an arbitrator?

AARP2: in a family matter, or between a landlord/tenant, neighbors, or in an employment setting - mediation helps heal the relationship rather than polarizing the parties...

Re baseball - it could be either. Based on my limited knowledge of the subject, I'd say he is a mediator. Jimmy Carter was also a mediator in Haiti.

LRossman: There was an article in the paper last week about a 100+ year old being evicted because of his dog or cat. I think they were going to mediation? Is that a typical kind of case?

AARP2: Yes - thats an excellent case for mediation, because of the continuting relationship, and because it would seem that there are many options to be explored to suit everyone's needs....

LRossman: I hadn't relaized Carter was a mediator in that case It sure took a toll on him

AARP2: Yep - one of the more famous ones - though sometimes the term mediation is used rather loosely...

LRossman: do you enjoy being a mediator?

AARP2: Yes! I love it - its a fascinating process - and it gives me a chance to be part of the legal system since I am not practicing in my current job

LRossman: If someone wanted to become a mediator, who should they call?

AARP2: The best place to be trained is by a local community mediation center or court program. Lately it seems like there are more folks who want to be mediators than there are cases to mediate. We have a long way to go to educate the public. Luckily, many schools now have peer mediation programs. LRossman: That's a great idea for schools. A great way to learn to resolve differences --peacefully

AARP2: Exactly.

LRossman: The video you mentioned, is it available now? Could people order it through online request?

AARP2: Its available now. Im not sure how the on-line requests work - they are not in fulfillment - they are in a couple of boxes next to my office!

LRossman: Why don't we let people know they could e-mail us and we can follow up with order info.okay?

AARP2: Great! It's called "Stop! You're Both Right!" - narrated by Richard Dysart - and its $10.

LRossman: Thanks for joining us tonight, it was fun and informative

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