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About Dispute Resolution Program Services

Last modified: 3/6/2012 4:10 PM

What is dispute resolution?

Dispute Resolution (DR) is a term used to describe a variety of options for dealing with disputes; this includes the option of litigation. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) typically refers to a method of resolving disputes by means not associated with formal litigation (court), such as mediation, arbitration, facilitation, conciliation, early neutral evaluation, and mini trials.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a communication between two or more people or groups which is conducted with the assistance of a neutral third party, called a mediator. The process can be made binding (by contract), or it can be non-binding and used simply in order to help people communicate and understand one another. There are several variations possible on this basic definition; sometimes, there can be more than one mediator involved. Similarly, mediators have different styles of communication, just as people do; some mediators are more "evaluative" of the parties and their relative positions, other mediators simply try to help the parties understand one another's viewpoints.

The focus of a mediation is determined by what the participants themselves are seeking. For example, some parties to a mediation may be looking for a contract, other parties may seek understanding or a modification of behavior. Whatever that goal is, the job of the mediator is to help parties reach an outcome that satisfies them rather than one aimed at proving right and wrong.

Through mediation, parties are able to work together to reach a solution which can be more creative than that which a court would impose.

The objective of the Office of Human Relations, founded in 1972, is to advocate for and take affirmative action to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in Santa Clara County based on race, religion, cultural background, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability. The Dispute Resolution Program, a subsidiary of the Office of Human Relations, works specifically to further those goals by providing no cost dispute resolution and mediation services to the inhabitants of the County of Santa Clara and beyond. The Office works in conjunction with the Human Relations Commission, which serves as an advisory body to the County Board of Supervisors.

The Dispute Resolution Program Services (DRPS), conceived in 1977, effectively advances the resolution of disputes on both the individual and community level by demonstrating, teaching, and advocating dispute resolution as a process whereby conflict may be resolved through effective communication, fostered understanding, and mutual respect. DRPS has within its core, three sub-committees. These three sub-committees include the Victim Offender Mediation & Restorative Justice Program, the Small Claims Court Mediation Program, and the Community Transformative approach to dispute resolution. Within these three sub-committees, there is no single type of dispute which can not conceivably be assisted with and/or resolved.

Strategic future plans for the Dispute Resolution Program include: broadening the nature and extent of services so as to reach an even more diverse segment of the population and educating the population of the bay area as to the principles and practice of dispute resolution so as to foster a stronger, better equipped community of dispute resolution practitioners within homes, community based groups, religious structures, and social organizations.

There are essentially two avenues by which cases arrive at the Dispute Resolution Program; those which are self referred, and those which come to the Program from a referring agency or formal organization. The Program continually strives to increase the efficacy and extent of the services offered. As such, DRPS has partnered with a number of sources both within the County of Santa Clara and beyond. The nature of these partnerships provides abundant opportunity to provide dispute resolution services. There are no costs associated with the services provided by the Dispute Resolution Program.

Examples of referring agencies include: the County of Santa Clara's Juvenile Probation Division, the District Attorney's Office, the Los Gatos Small Claims Court Facility, the Sheriff's Department, the San Jose City Police Department, and the City of San Jose Code Enforcement.

As every case for dispute resolution is an example for individuals, businesses, law firms, corporations, and community members as to the inherent participant power in the dispute resolution process, parties to a dispute will often initiate a call to the Dispute Resolution Program because of past experience, word of mouth, or on the initiative and urging of an agency or individual who has either been through the process in the Office, or by someone who has received training from DRPS.

The Office of Human Relations and its staff is committed to providing the highest quality in dispute resolution services to the community. As such, a number of philosophical policies affect the procedure for "case development" and mediation. A case coming to DRPS is screened for its logistical compliance with program needs-are there at least 2 willing parties to a dispute, are there mental or physical handicaps which would preclude any sort of effective Office involvement in the case, is assistance or resolution precluded by any outside factors (such as court influence) which would mitigate against Program involvement?

Once these procedural issues are ascertained, the dispute resolution process has begun. Philosophically, a mediation begins at this time. This policy and procedure is one example of a distinguishing characteristic which sets apart this Program. The unique sensitivity of the Supervising Program Mediators ensures that parties to a dispute are provided an attentive, thoughtful ear from the inception of the dispute resolution process. This is often not the case in other programs, as parties are not generally provided a forum until a formal face-to-face meeting has taken place. Depending then, upon the type of the dispute resolution process employed, the average length of an ADR session may take from 2 hours to 6 weeks.