Mediation Has a Rich History in North Carolina

By John C. Schafer
Deputy Commissioner in Charge of Mediation
N.C. Industrial Commission

As Jim Gates explains later in this newsletter, Dispute Resolution Month was a resounding success, and an appropriate tribute to the achievements of our State with respect to ADR. Jim, Judge Ralph Walker, and the over one hundred volunteers who selflessly contributed their valuable time and energy to this statewide celebration deserve special thanks. As we celebrate the success of ADR in this State, which is now embedded in our law and civil trial practice, this is a golden opportunity to reflect on how it all began.

In 1983 the N.C. Bar Foundation’s Task Force on Dispute Resolution (the "Task Force") was created by the NCBA’s President at that time, Charles L. Fulton. The Task Force’s final report was published in June of 1985. Upon receipt of the Task Force’s report, the Bar Association established the Committee on Dispute Resolution (the "Committee"), which was active on a number of fronts from 1985 until 1993, when the Section was established. The Section now has over 450 members dedicated to monitoring the development and future use of ADR to its fullest potential.

In 1985, and as a result of the Task Force’s work, the General Assembly authorized a pilot program of mandatory, nonbinding arbitration of claims for money damages of $15,000.00 or less. However, the enabling legislation provided that "no state funds [could] be used to implement the pilot program." The legislation did grant permission to "seek such funds as are needed to establish and conduct the pilot program." Committee members raised the funds necessary to support the program, drafted rules for the program’s use, and arranged for its evaluation by the Institute of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Other members of the Committee arranged for and helped conduct an evaluation of the mandatory child custody mediation program in Mecklenburg County. Both of these evaluations demonstrated that the programs examined were both useful and desirable. Both programs were thereafter made permanent by the General Assembly. The Committee, and then the Section, were instrumental in developing other dispute resolution programs in this state’s courts and administrative agencies, with mediated settlement conferences being the procedure of choice in most programs. Randy Ward’s article in this newsletter recounts the development of the Industrial Commission’s mediation program, and the huge impact that the program has had in the workers’ compensation area of law.

Surveys and studies show that mediation is widely accepted and approved by the courts and administrative agencies, the legal profession and the public generally. As Governor Hunt said in his Dispute Resolution Month Proclamation, North Carolina is a national leader in mediation, arbitration and other dispute resolution procedures, and the Centennial year of the North Carolina Bar Association is a particularly fitting time to celebrate the achievements of our State with respect to dispute resolution. The Bar Association sponsored initiative has so changed the legal landscape for the better that other jurisdictions frequently make inquiries about the development of dispute resolution programs in North Carolina, and there is an obvious need to document the historical development of these programs and their consequences. This Centennial year is the time to do it.

The Section plans to prepare a book which currently has a working title of "ADR In North Carolina: Past, Present And Future. This book will be a history of how ADR was started and nurtured by the volunteer work of lawyers with the financial support of the NCBA Bar Foundation and other organizations. It will not be an indulgence in self-congratulations. It will be more than a history. It will identify and describe the ADR procedures, as options for their clients and discuss potential opportunities for future use. It will be in the nature of a tool or guide for people who need to know more about ADR procedures and programs. A chapter will also be devoted to the community based dispute settlement centers and their programs which function outside but parallel to and in harmony with the civil justice system.

The book will be implicitly addressed to, and be a valuable resource for, the following audiences:

  1. Lawyers who are not knowledgeable about ADR in general, or about specific ADR programs or procedures.
  2. North Carolina legislators, most of whom are not lawyers, confronted in every session with proposed legislation having some ADR component not fully researched or understood by proponents, and by decisions on appropriations related to legislation which includes such provisions.
  3. State agency executives, as well as county and city governing bodies.
  4. Members of the judiciary and trial court staff personnel.
  5. Anyone interested in or involved in state-supported or approved community based dispute settlement centers.
  6. The general public.

This book will not be a "best seller". It will not be undertaken with any expectation of financial benefit to anyone. It will be a "labor of love" by people who want to make a contribution to the courts and to our profession. We intend to call upon numerous people who have been involved with ADR or who have special knowledge or records to contribute information for the book. They will not be paid or expect payment. Their work will be coordinated by a qualified individual, not yet selected, who will be expected to devote a substantial amount of time over an anticipated nine to twelve month period, and who will be compensated for his or her time. In addition to serving as the "author" of the book, this individual will spend a considerable amount of time contacting persons with knowledge and information, and on other administrative matters.

The brainstorming event to be held on Saturday, March 4, 2000 at 10:00a.m. at the Bar Center will certainly be a worthwhile experience, even for those persons who are not interested in participating in the preparation of the ADR book. We’ll meet for four hours (including a "dutch" lunch) to generate memories and recollections of the historical development of mediation, arbitration and other settlement procedures in North Carolina. Former and current members of the NCBA Dispute Resolution Task Force, Committee and Section Council are particularly encouraged to attend.

As Governor Hunt said in his Proclamation, we should all be proud of what has been accomplished in this State. Now it is time to "affix a blue ribbon to the package." Just as the members of the Dispute Resolution Section and other volunteers helped make Dispute Resolution Month a resounding success, I urge you to do whatever you can to make this new project an important reminder of what we have already accomplished, and a blueprint of what we may yet accomplish in the future.

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N.C. Industrial Commission Mediation Section 4342 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-4342
Phone:  (919) 733-2030 Fax:  (919) 715-0282
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