New Law Provides Funding for Dispute Resolution Centers / Option to Lawsuits

Article excerpt

Conflict mediators Bob Helm of Stillwater and Terry Simonson of Tulsa say a new state law providing financing for dispute resolution centers will prove an excellent option to the traditional lawsuit.

A psychology professor at Oklahoma State University, Helm heads Dispute Services, a project for services and research in dispute resolution.

Simonson heads Tulsa's Citizen Complaint Centers, sponsored by the American Bar Association. He was instrumental in getting the Dispute Resolution Centers bill passed by the state legislature.

Both men recently were reappointed to one-year terms on the state dispute resolution advisory board by Charles Ferrill Jr., administrator of the state courts of Oklahoma.

The new law, which takes effect Nov. 1, provides that dispute resolution centers be financed by $2 added to fees charged for filing civil cases in Oklahoma district courts.

"Dispute resolution helps people consider all interests in resolving disputes," Helm said. "It's an alternative to a lawsuit. It speeds up justice and makes justice more widely available."

Simonson added: "I don't know that justice needs speed as much as conflicts need paths of resolution to choose from."

Those paths, in addition to dispute resolution, include mediation, ombudsmen and arbitration. Although the state dispute resolution advisory board has no budget, it will advise Ferrill on spending the money.

"Ferrill will make grants based on application from cities or counties that would like to establish a dispute resolution center," Simonson said.

Helm said he foresees the first applications for grants as coming from existing programs and there are but a handful of those.

"We'll have to have state credentials to operate a dispute resolution center, but mediator licensing is in the future, if at all," Helm said. Credentialing would include workshop training in mediation.

"People such as psychologists, social workers, counselors and attorneys will be preferred in sensitive cases as prospective mediators," Helm added.

While the majority of cases dispute resolution centers would cover consist of barking dogs, poor car repairs and other related consumer-merchant squabbles, Simonson said the centers could handle cases involving conflicts between governments.

"I think mediation would work in conflicts between governments where there is an impasse over allocating money from the state back to a locality.

"A mediator could help to establish an agenda and a plan so that both feel they are still true to their positions without being adversaries," he said. . .

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Wagner was a member of the Oklahoma City law firm of Kornfeld Franklin & Phillips, specializing in the firm's litigation department. He also has maintained a personal injury, railrod and business litigation trial practice since 1980.

Wagner was selected by United States district judges H. Dale Cook, James O. Ellison, Thomas R. Brett and David L. Russell. . .

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