Express Staff Writer
With a new
business called "Resolutions Arbitration and Mediation Service,"
an attorney and part-time judge hopes to help Wood River Valley residents
save money and emotional energy by resolving their legal disputes without
going to court.
Leopold, 49, has been a trial attorney in the Seattle area since 1979, and
a King County pro-tem judge for the past 15 years. Heís been skiing at
Sun Valley since he was a child, and worked as a bellhop at the Sun Valley
Inn during the mid-70s.
When he and
his wife, Peggy, were told that their Bellevue, Wash., home had been
condemned for a new highway, they interpreted it as an omen that it was
time to move to the Wood River Valley for good. In April, they set up shop
on Ketchumís Main Street, next to the Clarion Inn, with Peggy working as
is a non-binding attempt to resolve a dispute, while arbitration is an
informal, but binding, alternative to a court trial.
dispute resolution, Leopold said, is a "burgeoning thing"
throughout the country. It helps clear an increasingly crowded court
system and allows parties to craft their own solutions, rather than
waiting for one to be imposed by a court or through their attorneys.
District Judge James May said the practice is becoming more prevalent in
Idaho, and many retired judges are taking up second careers as mediators.
court rules, a judge can encourage and even order an attempt at mediating
disputes. May said he considers mediation in every case that comes before
him, and commonly orders parties to engage in it.
are still settled out of court through negotiations between the partiesí
attorneys. However, Leopold said, a neutral mediator can get embittered
parties to talk directly and can probe for the often concealed emotional
roots of a dispute.
times, itís a lack of communication that stands in the way of settling
problems," he said. "Putting a case into mediation allows the
parties to communicate instead of the lawyers arguing."
disputes between neighbors, or people in employer-employee or business
relationships, are good candidates for mediation.
mediated resolution can keep a relationship. After a trial, itís
example of a case that he mediated successfully, Leopold pointed to a
situation in which a woman received burns on her back from an electric
physical therapy machine. Though not serious, the burns left permanent
scars. After a year of legal maneuvering, the defendantís insurance
company hadnít offered much money, on the grounds that little expense
had been involved in the womanís treatment. When they got together with
the plaintiff, they saw things differently.
they were sitting at the table looking at the scarring, it became much
more apparent what this would mean to the psyche."
said opportunities to mediate a case often donít reveal themselves until
a pre-trial conference, when the parties have had a chance to investigate
the issues and weigh their chances of winning.
however, believes attempts at mediation often come too late. Once each
side has put a lot of energy and money into the case, he said, theyíve
got to have an open mind," he said. "If you only want 100
percent of your case plus costs, that may not be amenable to