Today’s question didn’t come from an in-person question, though, but from a phone call. The backstory went that the caller was finding their way through a TEDRA action (probate dispute) and the court had ordered mediation. Due to [reasons] the caller felt mediation didn’t go their way and wanted to know what options they had:
What agency regulates mediation services? Is there an appeals process?
ADR is a topic I know very little about, so I asked them to email us so I could respond with links and attachments. Email is preferred for these reasons: giving us time to answer, and the ability to send materials ie not read aloud from treatises.
I know for parenting plans and the like that you might be ordered to go to ADR before returning to the courts, but with their processes being largely outside court rules and statutes, my knowledge quickly runs out. I was aware of the King County Dispute Resolution Center, but it had never occurred to me that an authority might regulate them.
The KCDRC website was a bust. They have staff emails listed, including that of their Executive Director, but my caller wasn’t simply trying to speak to the manager. We were looking for procedure…
I found the chapter of the RCW that authorizes the use of Dispute Resolution Centers, but that too was off base-nothing spoke to their regulation. RCW 7.75.060 says,
“Any person who voluntarily enters a dispute resolution process at a center established under this chapter may revoke his or her consent, withdraw from dispute resolution, and seek judicial or administrative redress prior to reaching a written resolution agreement.”
But that too wasn’t on-point. The caller had reached an agreement, but one they seemingly wished to appeal.
I opened Washington Practice in Westlaw and searched the entire series for “Alternative Dispute Resolution” and scanned through the many results. A promising chapter came from the Family and Community Property Law volume, which spoke to the mediation beyond the family law context. In particular, chapter §53:2 says,
“Mediation is essentially a contractual undertaking and is relatively free of regulation. The Uniform Mediation Act (“UMA”) provides some limited standards and protections for mediation matters. All mediations, including those required by statute or court rule, are governed by the UMA.”
Emphasis mine. Knowing about the UMA, I felt assured that if there were some authority regulating mediators, it would be found there. Small win.
But I hadn’t been approaching the process from a distinctly TEDRA angle, and I felt there was a resource yet untapped. I searched the TEDRA section of Washington Practice’s Probate Law and Practice, and although there is a section on ADR, it’s not a slam dunk procedurally-speaking.
I then thought to check the WSBA Deskbook on Estate Planning, as I remember reading about the TEDRA petitioning process there, maybe six months prior. And lo, a step-by-step, procedural chapter greeted me, complete with a chapter (§13.8) all about the escalation of mediation to arbitration, and appealing from arbitration to superior court. Bingo! I emailed them a scanned copy of this chapter as well as the Community Property chapter (I liked the section explaining the lack of regulation) and a link to the UMA.
So I learned a lot about the Uniform Mediation Act, about ADR under TEDRA, and specifically which resources to grab straightaway next time. And this question also shows the importance of emailing your questions! If I had tried to corral these texts and locate authorities on the phone, I’m sure my responses would have been far less comprehensive. There is a time and a place for asynchronous communication, and legal research is certainly one of them.