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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 15 - 21, 2002


Couple opens 
mediation business

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.

Norman Leopold

Norman 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 office manager.

Mediation is a non-binding attempt to resolve a dispute, while arbitration is an informal, but binding, alternative to a court trial.

Alternative 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.

Fifth District Judge James May said the practice is becoming more prevalent in Idaho, and many retired judges are taking up second careers as mediators.

Under Idaho 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.

Most cases 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.

"Often 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."

He said disputes between neighbors, or people in employer-employee or business relationships, are good candidates for mediation.

"A mediated resolution can keep a relationship. After a trial, itís scorched earth."

As an 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.

"When they were sitting at the table looking at the scarring, it became much more apparent what this would mean to the psyche."

Judge May 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.

Leopold, 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 become inflexible.

"Youíve 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 settlement."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.