Mediation Center Brochure

Mediation is a private and voluntary means of dispute resolution that is being used by an increasing number of individuals and companies to settle disputes more quickly and at much less cost as compared to litigation. In fact, many parties (and their attorneys) involved in litigated cases choose mediation as their case is proceeding in court. Most cases are settled, often with an investment of only one long day or two.

Mediation is, in essence, a facilitated settlement negotiation. The mediator does not act as a judge. He or she does not make a decision on the relative merits of the case or the amount of damages to be paid by one party to the other. Instead, the mediator is an impartial, neutral third party who facilitates and guides the discussion among the parties and their attorneys. Factual and legal issues are discussed in a controlled and often collaborative process, with the goals of exploring possible outcomes and reaching a mutually acceptable settlement.

The mediation process is confidential by law. Unless all parties agree otherwise, nothing said during the mediation may be used as evidence in court. This confidentiality promotes an unhindered exchange of views. Furthermore, each party may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of his or her case with the mediator in confidence; i.e., without that party’s permission, the mediator will not reveal the information to the other party. When the parties reach a settlement, they memorialize its terms in a written agreement. The parties usually agree to make the settlement agreement binding and admissible in court, as an exception to the confidentiality rule.

In addition to the benefits of speed and lower cost, mediation offers another advantage: A skilled mediator can help the parties devise a creative solution to their dispute. A trial results in a winner and a loser, with the losing party usually being ordered to pay a sum of money to the prevailing party. By contrast, a skilled mediator can help the parties come to an agreement that involves some give and take on all sides, with each party preserving that, which is most important for him or her. This can be enormously helpful in preserving business relationships. In addition, mediation is not bound by the procedural rules of litigation, and thus the parties can design a process that fits the particular conflict.

Even if the case does not settle on the day of the mediation, the parties can usually learn something from hearing the other side’s presentation or the mediator’s evaluation. Also, the mediator’s follow-up after a session that has not resulted in a settlement, or the possibilities brought to light during the negotiations, may later ripen into an agreement.

Mr. Heppell is a trained mediator. He serves on the mediation panel of the Solano County Superior Court. In addition, Mr. Heppell is an experienced attorney who has handled a wide variety of civil cases in over 30 years of practice. Mr. Heppell’s broad legal background enables him to evaluate disputes and the chances each party would prevail if the dispute were to go to trial. Although as a mediator Mr. Heppell will not give legal advice to either party or advocate for either party, he will, if appropriate, discuss his evaluation of the case with one or both parties, in order to help the parties come to an acceptable agreement.

Family Law Mediation

Divorce is an area of law especially amenable to mediation. Divorce trials can be destructive to family relationships and cause long-term resentment and hurt feelings. When the parties can come together and mediate the divorce, they can resolve their issues with mutual dignity and respect. Also, domestic relations orders for child custody and support are more likely to be voluntarily followed without the need for court enforcement if they have been developed through a collaborative process. A particular type of mediated divorce called collaborative family law is aimed at conducting a successful mediation in this way. Ms. Carlisle and the firm’s Family Law practice emphasize mediation and collaborative law whenever appropriate.