Dispute Resolution Month Highlights Eventful Year
—The Chair’s Comments—

By John C. Schafer
Deputy Commissioner in Charge of Mediation
N.C. Industrial Commission
E-mail: schaferj@ind.commerce.state.nc.us

It would be difficult to look back on the past bar year and not think first about Governor Hunt’s proclamation of October, 1999 as Dispute Resolution Month. It was a pleasure for me to serve as a co-chair of this project with Judge Ralph Walker and Jim Gates, but it would be impossible to properly thank the many persons who volunteered their time to make this project a great success. There were more than 130 project events conducted statewide during the month, or an average of more than four events each day. Project activities occurred in all but three judicial districts, including information booths, in excess of 70 speeches throughout the state, and the distribution of over 7,800 copies of the project pamphlet ("Not All Disputes Must Go To Trial"). Approximately 60 cases were conducted on a pro bono basis, including District Court, Superior Court and Industrial Commission cases. At the NCBA Centennial Bar Convention AAA president Bill Slate gave an excellent speech on the future of dispute resolution in this country and abroad. An NCBA-sponsored radio announcement on the project featuring Chief Justice Frye ran statewide, reaching millions of listeners, and the Bar Association also issued press releases on the project. Nevertheless, despite the huge amount of energy devoted to Dispute Resolution Month, this past year had many other milestones and activities of note.

DISPUTE RESOLUTION TASK FORCE

At the request of the section and others, Chief Justice Henry Frye appointed an ad hoc Dispute Resolution Task Force (the "Task Force) to make written recommendations about revisions to the governance structure for all our court-sponsored dispute resolution programs. The appointment of this Task Force, chaired by former Chief Justice James Exum, created a rare opportunity for dispute resolution professionals in this state. On May 24, 2000, two days after the Task Force issued its report, the State Judicial Council voted unanimously to adopt the Task Force’s recommendations, and a standing Dispute Resolution Committee was soon thereafter established by order of the Supreme Court.

BOOK ON PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF
DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN NORTH CAROLINA

Although at one time this project appeared to be a daunting task and impossible to achieve, plans for a book on the past, present and future of dispute resolution in North Carolina are moving forward. Under the able leadership of Carmon Stuart the section’s ADR Book Committee has prepared a draft outline and work plan. A brainstorming event for the book was held at the Bar Center on March 4, 2000, and Jackie Clare is serving as the book’s coordinating editor. Special thanks go to the Dispute Resolution Commission, which has agreed to provide most of the funding for the project. The section will also be providing financial support, in addition to a substantial contribution of "sweat equity" to make this dream become a reality. As with Dispute Resolution Month, this project will require contributions from many attorneys and dispute resolution professionals throughout the state.

SIGNIFICANT REVISIONS TO MSC ENABLING LEGISLATION

On July 12, 1999 the legislature ratified House Bill 924 which formally authorized the use of community mediation centers. At the section’s request, the legislation also included additional provisions to the enabling legislation for the Superior Court and District Court mediation programs which (a) clarified that a mediator may not be compelled to testify at a hearing to enforce an agreement reached in a mediated settlement conference, except to attest to the signing of such agreements, and which (b) made agreements reached at mediated settlement conferences unenforceable unless they are reduced to writing and signed by the parties. These additional provisions were drafted and adopted in response to two recent N.C. Court of Appeals cases which caused a great deal of concern in the mediation community. Andy Little, the chair of the section’s Legislative Committee, and Scott Bradley, Executive Director of the Mediation Network of N.C., deserve significant credit for the passage of this legislation.

CANONS OF ETHICS FOR ARBITRATORS

On August 19, 1999 the N.C. Supreme Court adopted, with minor revisions, the Canons of Ethics for Arbitrators prepared by the section’s Ethics and Professionalism Committee, which is chaired by Sydnor Thompson. The Canons are the country’s first statewide arbitrator ethics standards mandated by a state government agency. George Walker was the principal drafter of the Canons.

MEDIATION PROGRAM DEVELOPEMENTS

Section members actively participated in the ongoing implementation and monitoring of the ED/Family Financial pilot mediation program, and in obtaining the first ever rate increases in mediation fees for appointed cases in the Superior Court and Industrial Commission mediation programs. The administrative fee and hourly mediation fee in both programs was increased from $100.00 to $125.00. The applicable postponement fees were also increased. In addition, through the efforts of section members and others, the N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization agreed to make significant changes to the workers’ compensation specialization standards that could have had a negative impact on the very successful Industrial Commission mediation program. A difficult to attain minimum number of hearings requirement was eliminated, and the standards were revised to specifically provide that an attorney-mediator’s time that may be devoted to mediating workers’ compensation cases would be considered a "practice equivalent" for purposes of the required minimum number of hours per year devoted to the practice of workers’ compensation law.

SECTION PARTICIPATION IN ADR COMMITTEES

Section members have generously committed their time to many groups dealing with dispute resolution issues. For example, ten out of the fourteen members of the DRC, and all six of its liaisons, are section members. Likewise, seven of the ten members of the ad hoc Dispute Resolution Task Force appointed by Chief Justice Frye were members of the section. Betsy McCrodden also served on a legislative study committee dealing with issues related to the administrative process for State employee grievances.

ANNUAL MEETING AND CLE PROGRAMS

Thanks to CLE Committee chair Frank Laney, the section presented a very well received CLE program along with its annual meeting at the Bar Center in Cary on April 28, 2000. At the annual meeting the section once again reaffirmed its desire to maintain its strong relationship with nonlawyer neutrals, and provided three $50 scholarships to affiliate members who attended the program. In addition, the section voted unanimously to request an amendment of its bylaws to allow affiliate members to serve on the section council. This fall the section will for the first time ever jointly present a CLE program with another section. Ann Duvoisin, Jackie Clare, Leslie Ratliff and Ken Gumbiner have been preparing the September 22, 2000 program in conjunction with the litigation section. The section’s 2001 annual meeting and CLE program will be held on May 18-19 at the Broyhill Inn in Boone, N.C., only the second time ever that it will be held at a location other than the Bar Center.

SECTION NEWSLETTER

The section published four newsletters during the 1999-2000 bar year, and the section’s newsletters were once again published jointly with the Dispute Resolution Commission newsletter. The section’s newsletter editor, Deborah Nowachek, Leslie Ratliff of the DRC, and Lee Kennedy deserve our deep appreciation for the outstanding job they did this year.

SECTION COMMITTEES AND LIAISONS

In addition to the ADR Book Committee, two other new committees were established this year. The Arbitration Committee is co-chaired by Debi Miller Moore and Miriam Saxon, and Mike Spivey chairs the Family Law Committee. Among other things, the Arbitration Committee and the Uniformity of ADR Laws Committee, chaired by Dickson Phillips, have been monitoring the development of the proposed uniform arbitration and mediation acts being drafted by national committees. The section’s other committees had busy years as well. For example, Membership Committee chair Sherman Criner conducted a membership drive which focused on arbitrators in the court-ordered program who are not members of the section. The section also established three new liaison positions this year, with the Industrial Commission, and with the NCBA’s Litigation Section and Legal Assistants Division.

It has been a pleasure and an honor for me to have the opportunity to work with the outstanding group of professionals who are members of our section. This year’s achievements reflect the efforts of many more persons than just those mentioned above. I would like to thank Immediate Past Chair Jim Gates, my fellow officers, and all of the section council members, committee chairs, liaisons, NCBA staff members and the numerous other persons who contributed to this successful year. Special thanks go to NCBA Director of Section Activities Jane Weathers for her invaluable assistance throughout the year.

Notwithstanding these accomplishments, much remains to be done by incoming Chair Ken Gumbiner, Vice Chair Frank Laney, Secretary Jackie Clare, Treasurer Betsy McCrodden, and new council members Ann Anderson, Sherman Criner, Jonathan Harkavy, Ken McCotter, Nancy Norelli, Ralph Peeples, Carmon Stuart, Nate Whitfield, Paul Ross and Chase Saunders, along with the continuing counsel members. The section will indeed be in good hands as it faces the challenges of this upcoming bar year.

Note: John Schafer is a Deputy Commissioner and the Dispute Resolution Coordinator for the N.C. Industrial Commission.


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Phone:  (919) 733-2030 Fax:  (919) 715-0282
Internet Address:  http://www.comp.state.nc.us/