Posts Tagged ‘California’

sopranosIn Hawaii, a Molokai couple won a $3.9 million verdict against their Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and individual defendants when the Maui jury found that they had been subjected to bullying, threats, harassment and intimidation from their own HOA Board members and others in the complex.  Jim and Nancy Bevill were subjected to what their lawyer, Terry Revere, called a “campaign of intimidation” that spanned over 6 years and went as far as killing pets, vandalizing cars, death threats and constant intimidation at the Ke Nani Kai Condominiums in Maunaloa.  Revere compared the Bevills’ experience to the equivalent of a John Ford western, where an isolated town is run by a villain and his collection of thugs.  More details are here: http://aiminst.com/maui.

A nightmare, to be sure, the case lasted for 4 years – the trial alone spanning 8 weeks – and included an estimated $1.5 million in combined attorneys’ fees, with claims ranging from negligence to federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act violations.  The Bevills’ complaint says that the board members treated the complex like their own “personal fiefdom”, using the resident manager and handyman as the “thugs” to enforce their rule, with the latter having a criminal record and claiming ties to organized crime.

The Bevills, who relocated to Hawaii from California in 2004, were awarded damages including $500,000 in general damages and over $3 million in punitive damages against the HOA Board and Association (generally not covered by insurance), as well as by three individual board members, the former resident manager, and the handyman.

It seems that the trouble all began when the Bevills brought in an independent handyman to complete renovations to their unit, over the objections and pressure of board members, who seemed to trade protection with the handyman. When the Board’s intimidation was unsuccessful, the Bevills soon found themselves at odds with the board, labeled as “troublemakers” and the target of escalated harassment, which included the handyman making lude gestures with his genitalia toward Mrs. Bevill when she was home alone.

Former 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August, who heard some of the case’s early portions, said that the outcome should serve as a strong example of why condo associations should resolve their disputes early and avoid protracted legal action, when possible.  Apparently, Bevill made an offer to settle prior to trial for less than 10% of the eventual verdict, but the offer was rebuffed by the defense.  “This case,” said August, “if nothing else, should be the poster child for the idea that alternative dispute resolution is the way to go.”  He said that resolving this dispute through mediation or even arbitration would have been a “much smarter” choice.

California law has Civil Code Section 919 requiring homeowner certain disputes in associations to be mediated prior to filing any kind of administrative or legal action.  Perhaps if Hawaii had such a law, this situation could have been resolved much earlier and ended much better.

While mediation doesn’t always resolve all of the conflict between people, it does offer those in conflict the opportunity to sit down with a neutral person to facilitate the dialogue and keep it positive and results oriented. For more on mediation, please check out Stories Mediators Tell [http://aiminst.com/stories].

Looking at the Ke Nani Kai HOA conflict, there was an opportunity for the Bevills to request mediation with the offending board members and contractor.  Had mediation occurred early on, especially had it been required under the CC&R’s, things may have been manageable before they got out of control.

Once the lawsuit was filed, August said that both he and another judge tried to assist the parties in settlement discussions, but such attempts were unsuccessful.  This is not surprising, given that the early resolution of conflicts brings the parties together to have discussions before emotions escalate as fully as they did in this conflict.  The later the resolution attempt, the more difficult it is to get parties to see eye to eye and work together toward a resolution. As this case progressed, huge amounts of legal fees were expended, and the entire complex had divided down the middle.  Once a case has become this volatile, attempts at resolution require an extraordinary amount of de-escalation before resolution can be attained.

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In California, March 14-20 is a momentous occasion for mediators. The California courts, along with the state Judicial Council and the State Bar of California, adopted standing resolutions last March setting aside the third week of March each year to celebrate mediation. How do we celebrate Mediation Week?  With good champagne and dancing?  Maybe.  In this case, however, we will do what courts and bar associations do well – we have events and conferences!

“Mediation programs offer the public an important alternative to resolving disputes outside the traditional adjudication system,” stated Chief Justice Ronald M. George, chair of the Judicial Council.  “Mediation Week is an opportune occasion to educate the public about the availability and benefits of mediation programs, and to recognize the people who make those programs successful.”

The reasons mediation should be celebrated are too numerous to mention here, but at events throughout the state this week judges, lawyers, mediators, administrators, businesspeople and the general public are ensuring most of those reasons are acknowledged.  Below are two such events at which I will participate:

On Wednesday, March 17, Kern County is launching its new court-annexed mediation program with a day-long conference open to the general public.  The Kern County Superior Court, Kern County Bar Association and the county Better Business Bureau have brought in the American Institute of Mediation to coordinate the free public program targeted to the judges, attorneys, business leaders and general public called “Maximize Your Mediations!“.  This dynamic and interactive program will feature my keynote speech “Why Mediate,” after which a series of 45-minute panels led by area lawyers and mediators will discuss and explain various mediation aspects such as confidentiality and creative solutions.  The audience is encouraged to ask questions.  Featured speakers include Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa and noted peacemaker Doug Noll.  Thanks to Kelly Lazerson, the court’s ADR Coordinator for bringing this program together.  The day ends with a mixer at the Bell Tower Club, downtown Bakersfield.  Maybe that’s when we’ll have the champagne?

On Friday, March 19, Orange County mediators and the Orange County Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section host “OC Mediators Odyssey 2010“.  The event begins with keynote speaker Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge Kim G. Dunning, who will explain the “State of the Orange County Superior Court and Mediation’s Positive Effect on the Local Court System and our Orange County Community.”  I will deliver the luncheon keynote, “The New, Invisible Cross Cultural Conflict,” a commentary about how all disputes are cross-cultural, even when the people may look the same.  Other workshop presenters that day include Vickie Pynchon, Jan Schau, Mari Frank, Wendy Kramer, Debra Dupree, Sam Konugres, and Rosemarie McElhaney.  This event would not have been possible without Therese Gray’s strong leadership.

For more information about times and locations, click on the links to the events’ web pages.  And remember, let’s celebrate mediation all week!

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